Joe Biden, since coming into office, has maintained a relatively high approval rating, hovering just above fifty percent, not uncommon for a newly minted president. But we must remember that over the past six or so years, polling has vastly underestimated Republican representation in the electorate. What does that mean for a couple of years down the line?
As we look forward to the major statewide elections in 2021, it looks as if Democrats are expecting minor challenges in the gubernatorial races in Virginia, New Jersey, and (likely) California. In other words, it’ll be hard to assume anything about the political landscape coming out of this November’s elections.
However, historical trends and the fact that Democrats have picked up very little ground since last November indicate that they’re going to struggle in 2022.
Since 1940, there has only been one midterm election (1986) where the party in the White House netted a gain in gubernatorial seats, and there have only two midterm elections (1998, 2002) where the party in the White House did not lose seats in the House of Representatives. It’s clear that being in the White House poses a challenge to maintaining a federal trifecta, something Democrats need to force their ambitious agenda through.
Nonetheless, other factors indicate trouble for Democrats. The simple fact that Republicans have control in neither branch of congress or the White House incentivizes Republican voters to turn out far more than Democrats; it’s part of the reason why Democratic turnout and overall Democratic success was so widespread last year.
Furthermore, while we don’t yet know the extent new policies will go to prevent gerrymandering, redistricted lines will certainly have an effect on congressional delegations; because of the fact that Republicans hold a clear advantage in state legislatures, it’s likely that they’ll come out on top in that contest.
To put it simply, it’ll take a historical anomaly for Democrats to maintain control of the House and all of their state governorships.
Democrats Can Still Hold the Senate
But while history paints a grim picture for Democrats, there is one place where they could come out on top.
Even though the House generally trends in favor of the party out of power, the Senate splits almost evenly between both sides: in eight of the last nineteen elections, the party in control of the White House has gained or maintained the same number of seats in the Senate. Partly because only a third of the Senate is up for re-election every four years, thereby limiting their susceptibility to popular sentiment, and partly because twenty of the thirty-four seats up for re-election are Republican, Democrats can likely gain ground.
According to Cook Political Report’s analysis of the upcoming 2022 Senate races, six look to be tossups or simply lean in one direction of the other. Of those seats, four are held by Republicans (PA, NC, OH, WI). Of course, situations could change if Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH) decides to challenge Maggie Hassan (D-NH) or if Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decides to retire, but all things considered, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see Democratic gains.
All in all, Democrats must turn out their voters in the same or greater levels than they have in the past to expect success in a number of competitive races. Data makes it fairly obvious that liberal voters face challenges across the country, especially remembering the shellacking President Obama faced during his first midterm election. But hey, a lot of things could still happen.