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Midterms update: Who’s on top?

Voting booths.
iStock.
Voter booths await the anticipated record turnout in the 2022 midterm elections, as enthusiasm runs high among both Democrats and Republicans, with a close battle for control of Congress.

The midterm elections are less than 50 days away and there are new, high-quality surveys on an almost daily basis. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have so much data available. I love to track the trendlines and dig into a result when there’s an unexpected question or finding, but having so much data, which are oftentimes contradictory, can create a lot of misinformation surrounding what polling actually does — and does not — capture.

The best these polls can do is represent a snapshot in time. Things can change fast, as we saw in 2016 when former FBI Director Jim Comey’s letter to Congress 11 days before the election probably cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. And it has been well covered that “pollsters fear they are blowing it again in 2022” after cycles where the impact of Donald Trump was too difficult to gauge in their models.

But, for now, there are certain truths we can rely on — such as, the outcome will be close. Way closer than anyone thought a few months ago, when there was talk of a red wave and Democrats losing dozens of House seats. Now, we’re talking about the potential of a thin majority in the GOP direction, with a Fox News poll indicating there is a path for Democrats to hold a two-seat majority.

In this ultra-polarized world there’s very little the two sides agree upon, and the same goes for how partisans interpret a poll. In that spirit, I’ve laid out the case for why both Republicans and Democrats are on their way to good nights on Nov. 8. In fairness, there are important factors that will determine success for either side. It comes down to turnout (how dull, I know). But here’s what has to go right for either side to win:

The GOP

First and foremost, for Republicans to do well, former Clinton adviser James Carville’s maxim, “It’s the economy, stupid,” must hold true. And it looks like it will. In the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, 84 percent of voters rank the economy as “highly important” and Republicans have a 16-point advantage regarding which party is better suited to handle it. Additionally, 76 percent rank inflation as “highly important” and the GOP has a 19-point advantage over Democrats. An NBC News poll reflects the same outcome. With 79 percent describing the economy as “poor” in the latest Associated Press-NORC poll, it’s hard to see how Democrats can overcome that type of advantage.

After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling regarding abortion, Democratic registration and enthusiasm shot through the roof in some places. The GOP cannot take back the House, and potentially the Senate, without exceeding those figures, and right now they’re just matching Democrats. ABC/Washington Post found that 3 in 4 Democrats said they are almost certain to vote, compared with 8 in 10 Republicans. And Morning Consult found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about the midterm elections, 60 percent to 57 percent. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s one that can mean missing out on winning a majority.

Crime is an increasingly important topic in this election. Democrats are scrambling to show support for police, and law and order in general, following a violent past year. And the GOP has centered messaging on Democratic policies they perceive to have made Americans less safe, such as “defunding the police” and cashless bail. If crime features as one of the top two or three most important issues on election night, the GOP will be in a good position — they hold a 14-point advantage regarding the party more trusted to handle the issue. But it can’t fall behind an issue like immigration — Democrats hold a one-point advantage there — or abortion, where Democrats clobber Republicans.

After the 2020 results, the GOP was riding high on their increased Latino support. Democrats were forced to reckon with two realities: Latinos are not a monolith, and their support is not as steadfast as that of Black Americans, as Democratic strategist Ruy Teixiera had been warning. President Biden won Hispanic voters by only 26 points, compared to 40 points for Barack Obama and 42 points for Hillary Clinton, but there are no signs that the GOP has built on their gains in the past two years. To have a big midterms showing, they’re going to have to do better than the 2020 margin.

The Democrats

With Republicans holding a huge advantage on managing the economy and inflation, everyone knows the Democrats face an uphill battle. But instead of playing defense all the time, there is an opportunity to marry “I feel your pain” with “the economy has improved.” As New Democrat Network founder Simon Rosenberg argues, Democrats can make a strong case that Americans are better off under Biden. There are five times as many jobs as there were with the last three GOP presidents combined; we have the lowest poverty and uninsured rates in U.S. history; the lowest peacetime unemployment rate since World War II; the real net worth for the bottom 50 percent is up 60 percent; and Congress has passed huge investments in infrastructure, clean technology and health care. Democrats must thread this needle to cut into the GOP advantage.

“Women are so fired up to vote, I’ve never seen anything like it,” TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier wrote in the New York Times. Since the Dobbs ruling, abortion has soared in importance and is now the fifth most important issue to many voters — and one where Democrats hold a 20-point advantage. Women are registering in droves, especially in states where abortion access is most at risk; the biggest surges so far as in Kansas, Idaho and Louisiana. If women turn out to vote as predicted, and abortion remains a critical issue, Democrats have a good shot at a successful evening. 

Until a few weeks ago, analysts were focusing on how badly Biden was doing with GenZ and millennial voters. Since his inauguration, Biden’s support among 18- to 34-year-olds has plunged more than 20 points in some surveys. But the trend has somewhat reversed following his decision to forgive $10,000 in student debt for most borrowers and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients; Biden’s approval with young voters rose 12 percent in the latest NBC News poll, from 36 percent to 48 percent. Will it translate to election enthusiasm? That remains to be seen, but Democrats need it to.

Yes, it’s true that Democrats have performed well in special elections. From New York’s 19th to Alaska’s at-large district to Minnesota’s 1st and Nebraska’s 1st, Democrats have been winning in places they weren’t expected to win. But then comes this finding from ABC/Washington Post: “Among those living in congressional districts that are rated as at least somewhat competitive by ABC’s FiveThirtyEight (neither solid Republican nor solid Democratic), registered voters favor Republican candidates by a wide 55-34 percent.” In a tight election, swing districts are the whole ballgame — and Democrats must cut into that more than 20-point margin advantage for Republicans if they have any shot at holding the majority in the House.

I could go on. Black and Latino support obviously matters hugely for Democrats, and Republicans have to regain some of the white, working-class and female support they lost to Biden in 2020. But the aforementioned areas represent some that both sides will need to emerge victorious on Nov. 8. It will be exciting to see how it plays out.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Abortion Democrats economy Hillary Clinton Inflation James Carville Republicans women voters

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