Reviews | In a normal year, the GOP should sweep. But 2022 is not normal.


When it comes to predicting midterm elections, it’s hard to distinguish between shrewd noncompliance and wishful thinking.

Conventional wisdom, steeped in history and data, suggests that Democrats should toast this fall. But be careful, say the dissidents, because 2022 is not a normal year, and it will not play out in the normal way.

Dissenters may be onto something, even if the case for a Republican sweep is strong.

It starts with President Biden’s sour approval rating, which is in the mid-30s or 40s at best. NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist Poll published July 20 had particularly bad news for Biden: while 43% strongly disapproved of him, only 11% strongly approved of him.

The public view of the economy is bleak – and voters expect even worse. In an in-depth study this month, the Pew Research Center found that just 13% of Americans rated the economy as excellent or good – and as you’re probably wondering, only 1% chose “excellent”. Opinion is also rapidly changing in a negative direction. As recently as January, 28% rated the economy positively.

Pew also found 47% saying the economy would be worse within a year. In March 2021, only 31% thought the economy would deteriorate.

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If the ballot looks deadly for Democrats, so does history. Mid-term, voters often reject vulnerable members of the incumbent party who have swept away previous tides. The turnout of the ruling party also generally drops. Opposition voters tend to be more willing to vote by sending a protest message.

Dissenters from Midnight for Democrats’ perspective don’t disagree with most of these arguments, but their case is rooted in a different, plausible claim: after Donald Trump’s savage presidency and the radicalization of the Republican Party, there is has reason to believe that 2022 will not. fits perfectly with the old paradigms.

Trump is not gone. The January 6 committee brought its transgressions back to center stage. One of its most important legacies is a far-right Supreme Court that began a sweeping demolition of longstanding interpretations of abortion law, gun law, environmental regulation, and voting rights — and more to come.

Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington serve as a reminder of another factor working in favor of Democrats, especially in key Senate races: GOP voters have chosen many hard-right candidates and therefore very vulnerable.

Result: if the public is not crazy about the Democrats, it likes the Republicans even less. This Pew survey found that 57% of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, but 61% had an unfavorable opinion of Republicans.

That means many Democrats who have a critical view of Biden — often because they don’t think he’s fighting hard enough against Republicans — are still telling pollsters they’re determined to vote Democrat in the mid-election. mandate, as my Post colleague Perry Bacon Jr. pointed out this month. And the prospect of breakthroughs in Congress for Biden’s longstanding agenda could boost the president’s numbers enough to make an electoral difference.

As for the issues, the Pew study suggests that the defining question for 2022 is whether Democrats can steer campaign dialogue away from economic performance and toward concerns on which Republicans are at a distinct disadvantage.

Yes, on economic policy, voters say they ok more with Republicans than Democrats by a margin of 40% to 33%. Still, that seven-point advantage is surprisingly small, given the general economic mood. Republicans have a five-point advantage on crime and immigration is a washout, with the GOP holding a one-point lead.

The list of issues on which Democrats have the advantage, according to Pew, is much longer.

Voters prefer Democrats over GOP by 20 points on climate policy and issues affecting LGBTQ people; 14 points on abortion and covid policy, and 13 points on health care and policies affecting race, and four points on gun policy.

There is also this: while 37% of Americans have a very unfavorable opinion of Biden, 46% have a very unfavorable opinion of Trump. The more Trump is at the center of the conversation, the worse it is for Republicans — and there’s been a lot of Trump news lately.

On the merits of the case, you can count on me to believe that until the Republicans openly and decisively break with Trump, putting them in power is deeply dangerous. But the numbers — especially when it comes to holding onto their narrow House majority — are still disheartening for Democrats.

The bottom line: A disgruntled country that might otherwise punish the ruling party really doesn’t like the alternative. This is why the upcoming campaign will be important.

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