Over the last couple of decades, the US mid-term elections followed a similar pattern: the President’s party took a significant hit.
In 2010, for example, with President Obama still having a 50 percent approval, he experienced the worst Democratic midterm election defeat in 70 years. In his words, he was “humbled” by what he described as “shellacking.”
Given rising inflation, concerns about the economy that cross the political divide and that President Biden’s approval rating is stuck at about 42 percent, many predicted a so-called ‘red wave.’
Former President Trump was riding on this to launch his 2024 bid and was prominent in supporting candidates who echoed his position that the 2020 election was stolen.
But the ‘red wave’ did not eventuate. By Sunday it was clear that the Democrats held control of the Senate, giving Joe Biden a much needed mid-term boost as he heads into the final two years of his first term as president.
The Democrats claimed a majority on Sunday when Nevada senator Catherine Cortez Masto was re-elected, defeating Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. While some Republicans performed even better than anticipated, there were other contested seats that Democrats outperformed all expectations.
Here are five key takeaways.
1. The Republicans got closer to their 2024 nominee
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has now become a national figure and a darling of the Republican Party. On election night he put 20 points between himself and Charlie Crist and in so-doing, broke Jeb Bush’s 13-point record when he secured re-election for the job in 2002.
Just how impressive was DeSantis’ victory was captured by Mike Cernovich, a right-wing commentator and former Trump booster with the following Tweet:
“Trump has zero shot at 2024 in general. After tonight, this isn’t up for debate. DeSantis in 2024 or accept total defeat.”
DeSantis is making his intentions clear. The fact that many suburbs that turned away from Trump stayed with the Democrats despite Biden’s low approval indicates that to win a national election, they need to move beyond Trump.
DeSantis has the type of credentials that could unite the party and win back some of those who are repelled by Trump. For this to work, Trump needs to get out of the way. This is doubtful with the former President on a warpath against the Florida Governor who he has labelled ‘De-Sanctimonious’.
2. Abortion (and Trump) united the Democrats
Through Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation decision, the US Supreme Court overturned a 50-year precedent that many Americans had taken for granted. The result was that the Democrats found an issue to rally their base around. This became obvious within two months when voters in conservative Kansas emphatically rejected a ballot measure to ban abortion.
As Democratic strategist, Anna Greenberg stated: “I do think Dobbs transformed this election…” The evidence confirms Greenberg’s interpretation. An NBC News Exit Poll found that 61 percent of voters were dissatisfied or angry about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, compared to only 37 percent that stated they were enthusiastic or satisfied.
3. Local issues continue to matter
In such a partisan environment, the dominant view is that all politics is national. That is, the lens is always one of Democrat v Republican like it would be in a Presidential election.
What we saw, however, is that local issues continue to be important. This is not to say that partisanship did not play a significant role, but in states such as New York, inflation and crime emerged as significant issues and the Republicans saw significant gains.
In contrast, Democrat Josh Shapiro coasted to victory in the Pennsylvania governor’s race where such factors were secondary to abortion rights. Likewise, Michigan’s Gabrielle Gifford focused on issues of gun violence as well as reproductive rights.
4. Latino voters are becoming more conservative but…
Over the last decade, Republicans have made significant inroads into the Democratic dominance with Latino voters. We saw Trump, for example, win over many of Florida’s Latino population.
This impact, however, requires a more nuanced analysis. Votes are still being counted in states with large Latino populations (like California, Arizona, and Nevada), so any broad statement about Latino voters swings should be tempered. Evidence that is emerging does indicate that the Democrats share of Latino support continues to decline from 64 percent in 2018, to exit polls indicating it is closer to 56 percent this year. In contrast, Republican shares increased from 29 percent in 2018 to an estimated 39 percent in 2022.
This is a complex and diverse population that is flexing its political muscle. Both parties need to reflect on their sales pitch and having the right candidates – and this is an increasingly vexed challenge for the Democrats.
5. Trump was a loser, Trumpism was not
Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post Thursday frontpage was Trump’s face over the drawing of a boy from a well-known nursery rhyme with the headline “Trumpty Dumpty” – and these words followed: “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall — can all of the GOP’s men put the party back together again?”
Not only did many of Trump’s preferred candidates suffer loses, but the risk of Trump returning continues to motivate Democrats. Further, DeSantis’ performing has cemented him a true challenger where none existed. Trump’s time could well be over.
Despite this, many moderate Republicans did not contest this year and as such, have left the more radical members of the GOP with greater influence. This is most obvious with Marjorie Taylor Greene and her fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus – who are committed to Trumpism. Since that group represents a solid bloc of votes, they are ideally placed to continue to drive the Trump agenda. As such, whichever Republican becomes speaker, the House Freedom Caucus could well set the agenda.
The results may have delivered the Democrats the Senate against expectations, and there was no red wave, it is nevertheless a mixed bag for both parties. What we do know, is that the the mid-terms are no predictor for the 2024 presidential election – that will be decided on a bunch of other issues.
Professor James Arvanitakis is the Director of the Forrest Research Foundation, a a Fulbright alumnus having spent time in the US, and is a regular media commentator.