Have you heard? Democrats have turned things around and are on the path to electoral victory in November. At least that’s the story being spread on social media and among the mainstream media. Even the election analyst bros (i.e. Nate Silver, Nate Cohn, etc.) on Twitter have gotten in on the act by beginning to entertain the idea that Democrats could actually keep the House.
MSNBC published an article on Monday pushing that message. “Republicans’ extremism could set Democrats up nicely for the midterms” the headline blares, offering a case study on what hopium looks like.
For most of 2022, Democrats have been sinking ever deeper into a pit of despair. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings (driven by the worst inflation in 40 years), were approaching those of the late Bush administration. The party’s agenda was apparently dead in the Senate, and Republican gerrymandering had given the GOP a substantial handicap in House elections. Election nerds took it for granted that Democrats would lose the House and probably the Senate too, along with control of vital swing-state governments, in November.
But in just a few weeks, things have taken a sharp turn for the better for the party. Democratic senators pushed through the Inflation Reduction Act — a large climate and health care bill that proves the party isn’t completely incapable of governing. Inflation appears to be moderating somewhat. And Republican extremism has produced weak conservative candidates in several states and, thanks to the right-wing majority Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, toxic opposition.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump appears to be in deep legal trouble. Last week, the FBI executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago estate and reclaimed numerous boxes of documents. The entire conservative movement responded with purple-faced outrage, threatening retaliation against Attorney General Merrick Garland, the FBI and anyone else it could think of.
There’s so much wrong here that it’s hard to know where to begin.
The first mistake is assuming that Democrat “accomplishments” translate to votes. Right now, large majorities believe the laughably named Inflation Reduction Act will actually make inflation worse. The bill is also a toxic brew of tax increases on the middle-class and bolstering of the IRS, perhaps the most hated bureaucracy in the country. As the press tells it, subsidies for electric vehicles, mostly received by well-to-do Americans, are going to send voters rushing to support Joe Biden’s party. To put it succinctly, I don’t buy it.
Then there’s the claim of “Republican extremism” being an issue regarding candidate quality. While there may be some truth to the idea that Trump endorsed some weak candidates, much of the consternation is overblown. Herschel Walker is leading the latest poll out of Georgia, and he has consistently kept the race close. Other candidates like Blake Masters and Mehmet Oz have barely begun their campaigns. It’s only August, and there haven’t even been any debates yet.
Couple that with the recent history of senate polling being absolute garbage, and there’s plenty of reason to remain patient and optimistic if you are a Republican.
In September of 2014, CNN had a poll where Tom Cotton trailed Pryor by 9.
The last poll before the election had Cotton down by 2.
Cotton won by *17*.
Many such cases.
— The Partyman (@PartymanRandy) August 15, 2022
As I wrote in my recent analysis of past senate polling from 2018 and 2020, pollsters overrated Democrats in 14 of the 15 toss-up races during those elections, in many cases by substantial margins. Until there’s proof that the issue with these surveys has been fixed, there’s every reason to believe Republicans are being understated once again. At the very least, there is no reason to be confident Democrats are now in the driver’s seat as the MSNBC writer suggests. This is still the first mid-term for a new president, historically a bloodbath for the incumbent party. History doesn’t cease to exist because it’s not convenient.
Then there’s the House, where the “bad candidate” talking point doesn’t even begin to register. The fundamentals and districting strongly favor the GOP as well, and there’s no revidence that a probable 30-seat loss has been cut down to single digits, which is what it would take for Democrats to retain the chamber. Even looking at the generic ballot, which Democrats have closed the gap on, the GOP still technically leads. Democrats would need a substantial lead on the generic ballot to hold onto the House. That’s not something we are seeing.
Lastly, no one should be gullible enough to believe that the raid on Trump’s home actually helps Democrats. If anything, the act will further juice Republican turnout, which has outpaced Democrats throughout the primaries (another key indicator). At the very least, it’ll be out of sight and out of mind by the time November rolls around. Three months is a long time in electoral politics.
In other words, Democrats are overdosing on false hope bolstered by cherry-picked data that ignores everything we know about how first mid-terms operate. If it were October, perhaps one could make the case Republicans are losing momentum, but it’s August. Proclamations of a Democrat comeback story are extremely premature and overblown. Still, the narrative shift taking place will make the actual results in November all the more hilarious. Nothing will ever match 2016’s election night meltdowns, but this might come close.