Republicans are widely expected to win control of Congress in the November midterm elections. It’s not a question of ‘if’ Democrats will lose control of the House – and likely the Senate – but rather, by how many seats.
Even before President Joe Biden took office, historical trends suggested that Democrats, who hold slim congressional majorities, would be at risk in 2022: in midterm elections since 1974, the president’s party has lost an average of 23 House seats, according to Gallup.
By all indications, Democrats are on track to suffer a greater-than-average loss of seats this year, given that Biden’s approval rating and three other key national mood indicators — satisfaction with how things are going in the U.S., ratings of the economy and congressional job approval — are well-below the historical averages in past midterm election years, per the same Gallup analysis.
In the two worst midterm election years for Democrats in modern history — 2010 under former President Barack Obama and 1994 under former President Bill Clinton — the party lost 63 and 53 U.S. House seats, respectively. This year, Democrats could see even more substantial seat losses.
Indeed, President Biden’s approval rating is currently lower than both Obama’s and Clinton’s at the same points in their presidency. Further, compared to both 2010 and 1994, Americans in 2022 are less satisfied with the way things are going in the country, more pessimistic about the economy and less approving of Congress.
With just five months until the midterms, is there any chance that the Democratic Party will be able to reverse their political fortunes and prevent a red-wave election?
In short, it is possible, but highly unlikely at this point, given the multitude of crises facing the country and the hostile political environment Democrats face.
While some Democrats are optimistic that recent events will galvanize the party’s base and stem their losses — namely, the news of the Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe v. Wade and the renewed focus on gun control following a string of mass shootings — polling doesn’t bear that out.
Republicans have a 12-point voter enthusiasm advantage over Democrats, per an Economist/YouGov poll, which was conducted following the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, and thus after the news broke about Roe v. Wade.
It is also highly improbable that abortion rights and guns supplant the economy as the top midterm issue. In just the last week, inflation hit a 41-year-high, the average price for a gallon of gas reached $5 and stocks entered a bear market. Voters are struggling with higher prices every day, and fair or not, will take out their economic frustrations on Democrats in the midterms.
The Biden administration’s attempts to highlight positive economic indicators — increased wages and historically low unemployment — have been to no avail politically.
Relatedly, despite Biden’s efforts to distance the party from the Left’s unpopular policing policies as crime rises across the country, the results of the Los Angeles mayoral primary election on Tuesday indicate that Democrats will have a difficult time countering GOP attacks ahead of the midterms.
Though Democratic Rep. Karen Bass worked to strike a more moderate tone on policing and criminal justice, as Biden as tried to, Rick Caruso — who was formerly a Republican, has never held elected office, and takes policing positions that run to the right of Bass — was able to finish ahead in one of the most Democratic-leaning cities in the country.
In addition to national Democrats’ messaging failures on the economy and crime, the party has not been able to communicate a path forward for the country on the other worsening crises we face, including the situation at the Southern border and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
Taken together, historical trends, Biden’s deeply negative ratings, widespread pessimism and the Democratic Party’s failure to provide cogent messaging on key issues — the economy, crime, immigration, and the pandemic — indicate that Democrats could be on track to lose as many seats as they did in 2010 and 1994, if not potentially more.
Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster and strategist. He is the author of “The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, From the Grass Roots to the White House.”