Over the past few months, the mainstream narrative surrounding this fall’s elections is that the GOP has about a 75% chance of holding the House, while Democrats are likely to hold the Senate. Well-known election analysts including Dave Wasserman, Nate Silver, and Larry Sabato conclude that the most likely outcome is the GOP having a small House majority, and Democrats enjoying a slim majority in the Senate. This conclusion is completely disconnected from reality. Joe Biden is wildly unpopular. Democrat policies have delivered historic inflation and economic woes. The American people know where to place the blame. On the evening of November 8, Republicans will dominate up and down the ballot across the nation.
Why are experts so wrong? For starters, the polls are off. Polls are useful in taking the temperature of a given race, and one can say more about an election where there are polls than when there are not. But the systematic bias against the GOP in polling means that polls showing the GOP ahead by 2 points on the generic ballot, or a poll finding Raphael Warnock up by 7 should be taken with more than just a grain of salt.
After overestimating Democrats in 2014, 2016, and 2018, polls were consistently wrong again in 2020. The most prominent example in the last election, Susan Collins, didn’t lead a single public poll and defeated her opponent by nearly 9 points. Despite these longstanding errors, polling hasn’t gone through any meaningful changes since 2020. So when the New York Times admits that “Democratic Senate candidates are outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016,” alarm bells should be ringing.
The other reason for the widespread error is more subtle. In National Review, Jim Geraghty pointed out that mainstream news has turned into “group therapy for liberals,” where reporting the ‘news’ has been replaced by reassuring messages for liberals. Democrats like Stacey Abrams, Mandela Barnes, and John Fetterman get glowing profiles written in the liberal media. Meanwhile, Republicans like Kari Lake and Ron DeSantis are consistently tarred as extremists. Many of the people analyzing elections are exposed to this “group therapy” narrative both directly and indirectly through the news they read and the social circles in which they operate — they live in liberal bubbles. Attempts to set aside these types of biases often fall short, that is until the votes start to come in.
When thinking about the midterms, the real question we ought to ask is what has changed since last November, when the GOP dominated in up and down ballot races. The answer is not much. Democrats may point to Dobbs v. Jackson (which ruled against a Constitutional right to abortion). Though it may motivate a certain subset of Democrat voters, Dobbs alone will not change the trajectory of the midterms. The Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t change the fact that nearly every voter has faced another year of higher prices at the grocery store and gas station. Abortion is rated as the top concern by only 4% of voters, while 49% mention the government, inflation, or the economy.
Meanwhile, polls are similar, albeit slightly better for the GOP compared with November 2021. At that time, Joe Biden’s approval rating was underwater by 8 points and the RealClearPolitics polling average gave Democrats a mere one point edge. Since then, both the generic ballot and Biden’s approval rating have moved about two points away from the Democrats. If the underlying fundamentals of polling generally remain unchanged, we should expect a result similar to 2021’s elections: a double digit swing against Biden’s 2020 margin. Certainly it will not be consistent nationwide, but the historical trend of GOP dominance during a Democrat president’s first midterm will almost certainly continue.
With this, we should expect the GOP to break their modern high-water mark (set in 2014) of 248 seats, or at least come very close. In the Senate—where concerns about candidate quality have dominated the discussion—the environment will be too Republican-leaning for these problems to matter. Ultimately, many Republican candidates will be propelled to victory by straight ticket voting and nation-wide dissatisfaction with the Biden administration.
When the dust has settled, my best estimate is that the Republicans win the two-party vote by about 6 points, leading to a GOP House majority of around 245 members, a 53-seat Republican majority in the Senate, and GOP control of 31 Governor’s Mansions. Certainly, there could be some deviation from these numbers. But the overall narrative of a competitive election in both chambers is completely off-base. It’s only a matter of time before it will be corrected.