Update 622 — Midpoint in Midterms:
Picture Has a New Hue, But is it Blue?
July marks the halfway point in the primaries for the 2022 midterm elections, with 29 states having chosen Congressional nominees. Some say minds are set, the outcome is ordained by history, confirmed by the polls. But the dismal outlook for Democrats in recent months shows more and growing silver linings, from falling gas prices, to fundraising and polling numbers around the country.
What are the main factors and voting issues that will decide the outcome? Today, we look at the economy, of course, but also the January 6 hearings, the decision overturning Roe, and the looming threat of Trump, in a survey of where things stand and what lies ahead this midterm season.
Economic Push-Me-Pull You
The labor market is strong with unemployment at 3.6 percent, with hundreds of thousands of jobs added each month. The most salient contributor to inflation, the price of gas, has fallen for over a month and will be reflected in the next CPI report. This should push inflation down and bring stability for many consumers.
With last month’s CPI report coming in at 9.1 percent year-over-year, many voters will believe Democrats are responsible for inflation. Americans have been strained by high housing costs, which are especially frustrating when wages haven’t kept up with inflation. Voters might think the party in power, particularly the president, are to blame for high costs and have not done enough to lower costs. This isn’t entirely false, but there are important steps Democrats can take before the midterms to change perceptions.
Instead of focusing on a one-size-fits-all message, Congressional candidates focus on tailored economic messaging to their constituents. It doesn’t imply disunity and is a strategy blessed by Speaker Pelosi, but, necessarily, the laws of majority preservation mitigate against the clarity of a unified economic message that will wait until 2024.
Congress and the White House should find ways to tame inflation via executive actions and legislation. Lowering prescription drug prices and investing in semiconductor manufacturing and advanced research and development are seen as effective methods. In addition to delivering on policy, responding to voters’ concerns about inflation, listening to voter’s problems, and working to address them is critical. There might not be enough positive news to withstand the headwinds posed by inflation, but the economic picture could change come November.
January 6th, a Date Which Will Live in Infamy?
The powerful hearings from the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol are having a sizable impact on Americans across the country. Over 20 million people tuned in for the first primetime hearing. A majority of Americans are following news about the committee, and 80 percent of Americans want accountability for those involved in the attack. The hearings are presented in an extremely compelling fashion, ditching the format of regular congressional hearings in favor of an investigative journalism presentation. Through interspersing clips of interviews with mostly Republican voices who were in the room with the former President, the committee creates a credible narrative that Trump was at fault for the insurrection.
However, many who are following the hearings are tuning in with their own biases. The impressive evidence uncovered by the committee in a compelling structure might not sway Independents and Republicans away from candidates who make false claims about the election.
Tomorrow’s hearing will be the last before a hiatus, focusing on what Trump was doing during the hours of the insurrection. Hearings are expected to resume after the committee releases their report in September. Through more public hearings and a rich report, Jan. 6 will stay fresh in voter’s minds ahead of November.
Roe “On the Ballot”
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization improved the national political environment for Democrats, energizing Democrats and women voters. Generic ballot polls have shifted in Democrats’ favor since the ruling. According to a recent New York Times/Siena poll, while the economy is still top of mind for most voters, cultural issues like abortion, gun violence, and the Supreme Court have edged out GOP-dominated issues like critical race theory, crime, and immigration as the top priority for voters. Voters who identified these issues as the biggest problem facing the country overwhelmingly supported Democrats, suggesting recent events have given Democrats the advantage on non-economic issues. Democrats hope to sway independents and pro-choice Republicans to vote blue in November.
Given the economy is still top of mind for most voters, the backlash against overturning Roe may not be enough. Male voters seem to be less concerned about the decision than their female counterparts, and Republicans seem to be gaining ground with nonwhite and working class voters who identify the economy and inflation as their top issues.
Reproductive rights may help maintain Democratic control of Congress, but Democrats’ general ballot gains could become temporary if voters return their focus to the economy as we approach November. As the consequences of overturning Roe continue to unfurl, so will more stories on the human costs of abortion bans, including that of the 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio. These stories may continue to energize voters and volunteers even as the initial shock of the ruling begins to fade.
Trump’s Fundraising Slump
Former President Donald Trump has spent the past few months stumping for the candidates he has endorsed while perpetuating the Big Lie. Despite the former president’s continued prominence within his party, Trump raised only $36 million in the first six months of 2022, a 29 percent decrease compared to the preceding six months. This figure does not include direct contributions to Trump’s Save America PAC but may signal that Trump’s ability to motivate his base is waning.
Trump has had mixed results with his endorsements this year. Notable Trump-endorsed candidates Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, and Herschel Walker proceeded to their respective general elections, but a number of Trump’s choices in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina were definitively rejected by voters in their districts.
Trump is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race in September. If he does make an announcement mere weeks before the midterms, Trump’s candidacy may pull attention back to his record in a year where he is neither in office nor on the ballot. Opposition to MAGA has been the driving force behind the past two elections, and voters have rejected it twice. Despite this, Republicans are running on the same platform, complicating their chances in the midterms. Trump’s proven culpability in the Jan. 6th attack and his 2024 announcement might influence Democratic and Independent voters to turn out against Trump and his party.
Money Makes the World Go Around
The Democrats’ fighting chance is visible when you look at fundraising numbers. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has outraised its Republican counterpart this cycle. In all cases, Democratic party committees have more cash-on-hand than Republicans which will prove impactful as we edge closer to November.
Party Fundraising in 2022 Midterm Cycle
(in Millions of Dollars)
Senate Democrats brought in a strong haul in the second quarter, from April to June of this year. In the 10 Senate battleground states, Democrats raised $53.4 million more than Republicans this quarter. These staggering numbers show the strength of Democratic incumbents and newcomers in tight races.
- Nevada — Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has raised $23 million more than her opponent, Adam Laxalt, in this cycle.
- Georgia — Senator Raphael Warnock has raised $43 million more than his opponent, Herschel Walker.
In House races, the fundraising gaps aren’t as wide. In 29 open seats, the Republican on average is raising $100,000 more than the Democrat in the second quarter. However, in districts with a Democratic incumbent, Democrats are outraising their Republican challenger roughly 3-to-1. Five vulnerable Republican incumbents were outraised by their Democratic challengers this quarter as well.
Democrats may be seeing a material change of political fortune, which would come not a moment too soon. The shift in trajectory seen in fundraising reports and the generic ballot is remarkable. But registration and the pressures of inflation pose challenges. In the remaining time before Congress recesses to the hustings, Democrats in Congress will (or should) be focusing on legislation that will lower costs for Americans and ease their economic burdens — such as prescription drug reforms. The worst case scenario, a red wave, seems less likely. There is no data showing Republicans comfortably ahead anywhere. This is a new election from where it was a couple months ago, and Democrats have a real fighting chance.