Midterm Election Chatter Has Been All Yada-Yada, Until Here and Now

Keith Srakocic

So, a Red Wave is coming in next week’s midterm elections.

Or it’s stymied because a president unaware of who’s standing next to him has valiantly rallied Democrats to help him spend more of our great-grandchildren’s wealth.

Breaking News, folks. No one knows what’s going to happen in the voting results of November 8.

We’re being played by media, which need an incessant flood of new stuff to post every hour or so. So, they massage and re-massage what’s known and come up with what seems “new.”

They can’t honestly tell readers and viewers the truth, which would be: Hey, folks. Don’t waste time on wishful election interpretations, polls, and predictions designed to draw clicks from one side and then the other as if the political power struggle for 435 House and 34 Senate seats was changing by the hour.

We set up this midterm election year in a post here last winter, then left it alone to avoid this pretend see-saw struggle that goes nowhere but ends in reality now.

Be sure to check back later for “Updates,” more repackaged versions of what our writers think/wish/guess might possibly, maybe happen, or not. Read all you want. We’ll write more.

I agree. Politics can be a fascinating spectator sport. Brutal to be inside it. But fun to watch from the couch. I’ve been involved both ways professionally in several countries since the Tet Offensive. (Google it. I don’t have the space.) Politics is the bold, bald competition for power in a free society. It’s the mixed martial arts of elected government.

Politics does not have referees calling fouls and assessing penalties. It should have. It pretends it does. But modern media has convinced itself that old-fashioned, attempted objectivity is inadequate for today’s partisan political climate.

So, they spend too much time chronicling what they would like to happen, using a plethora of poll data and selected quotes to argue the case for their favored candidates.

Their arguments can be compelling, even entertaining. And they hope they are also convincing because ever since Watergate, too many reporters dream of affecting events, not just reporting them.

But it’s all just that, entertainment, like the week-long orgy of media praise, worry, speculation, and puffery before every Super Bowl, the most important game ever played. Until next year’s.

Does anyone ever recall that week’s predictions or the fan polls the Monday after? Beyond remembering the sweetness of the Budweiser Clydesdale ads?

It’s the same now for the 2022 midterm elections. Everyone knows polls are merely snapshots of a moment in time among a small, select group of voters who may be telling the truth. Polls do not predict results. Pundits do, using select slices of data.

Both sides want them to when the numbers seem to be going their way. Witness the apparent sudden shift of support to Mehmet Oz in the crucial Pennsylvania Senate race after last week’s debate revealed the mental limitations of stroke victim John Fetterman.

Americans don’t mind electing qualified officeholders with physical challenges. Franklin Roosevelt got four White House terms and he couldn’t walk. It’s the talking problems that hurt, which makes sense since Capitol Hill jobs involve a fair amount of talk.

In 2016, Illinois voters picked Tammy Duckworth as a senator. She’d lost both legs and an arm when her helicopter was struck by rocket fire over Iraq. She defeated incumbent Mark Kirk, who’d suffered a stroke.

Polls have become the go-to data for political writers because they’re easiest to process and save them from actually talking to real people. Never mind that the numbers may well have changed just since the cross-tabs were run.

History isn’t wishful and doesn’t change. So, it’s usually the most accurate predictor. By historical patterns, Joe Biden’s congressional Democrats should be shellacked this year, as an incumbent president’s party almost always is in his first midterm. The event becomes a preview verdict on his job so far, which rarely matches the hyped hopes of their election victory.

Evidence suggests Biden sees that coming. He just ordered $18 million in party funds released to try salvaging troubled campaigns.

Every modern president but one (George W. Bush the year after 9/11) lost congressional seats in their first midterm November.

Another piece of relevant history: In every one of the last 39 midterm elections the party of a president with a job approval above 50 percent has still lost on average 14 House seats. If a president’s job approval is under 50 percent, as Biden’s 40 percent is by far, his party has lost an average of 37 seats.

A loss of only five would give Republicans House control, likely with Kevin McCarthy as Speaker.

A net loss of just one Dem Senate seat makes Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader there.

When Joe Biden was vice president, he and the political partner he found surprisingly articulate lost 63 House seats. What’s often forgotten is they also presided over the loss of almost 1,000 state legislative seats, damage that erased a generation of farm-team Dems and gave Republicans enhanced reapportionment powers for two consecutive Censuses. Democrats have yet to fully recover. So, midterm election results can reverberate far beyond the immediate cycle.

That would make Nancy Pelosi a former House speaker on her 83rd birthday.

Or better yet, a former House member for all that she has failed to do for her once special, but now seriously decayed city of San Francisco during 18 (!!) consecutive terms in office.

Also providing political headwinds for Biden’s party is the economy, which he says is going great. Like many things this president says, most Americans see things differently. A Reuters/Ipsos Poll this past week found 71 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only 17 percent think things are going right.

Even within Biden’s own party, a majority (56 percent) say Wrong Direction vs Right (32 percent).

According to Joe Biden, who will never pump his own gas the rest of his life, fuel prices are going down.

They’re not. They’re up five cents again on national average from a month ago.

There’s the current inflation rate which is the worst in 40 years. The hyped food costs stun the minds of anyone who shops for food, which servants do for Biden. Inflation has long been a killer of political ambitions.

As late as the summer of 2021, Biden predicted inflation was merely a statistical blip. He did boast of saving Americans 16 cents on holiday hot dog buns. But the blip has endured and grown.

Ominously, the other day Biden predicted there would be no recession next year.

In a remarkably grisly way, Biden has hung his hopes for political life on the fight over aborting babies. He hopes his supporters’ anger over the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe might endure through Nov. 8 and motivate them to vote Democrat.

No poll this fall has shown abortion much above the bottom on a list of voters’ prime priorities. It’s always the economy and inflation on top, which should be bad for Democrats.

It is theoretically possible that the collective wisdom or at least thinking of voters produces not a red or blue wave, but a purple ripple. Every so often, American voters give one party control of both Congress and the White House, as they did for Democrats in 2020 and 2008.

That prompts the ruling party to get greedy and enact its favorite expensive ideas, usually free of any bipartisanship. Think ObamaCare and the nearly $900 billion stimulus. Voters then back off quickly, removing control of at least one chamber.

Even with slim legislative control, Democrats did that again after winning full control in 2020. They pumped more than five trillion new dollars of spending into an economy already recovering from the pandemic.

The beauty of a split government in an age of hyper-partisan politics is that legislative initiatives became in effect paralyzed. That’s not good for the country long-term. But no one ever accused U.S. voters of thinking beyond the moment.

Given voters’ sour mood, they can obviously decide that political stalemate in Washington is the least-worst scenario. No one getting much of anything done is better than either party fully having its way with the government. That could be exactly what’s coming up here.


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