And yet despite all the data, there’s a piece of the midterm puzzle that still hasn’t been completely solved: How exactly did Democrats manage to nearly sweep every competitive House and Senate race, even though they’ve often fared pretty poorly elsewhere?
The Catalist report suggested it was the turnout, finding that Democrats won “with electorates in these contests more similar to the electorates of 2020 and 2018 than a typical midterm.” Pew also pointed to turnout, but with a different interpretation, writing that Republicans won control of the House “largely on the strength of higher turnout,” and found that a disproportionate number of 2018 Biden voters and Democrats stayed home.
You may have imagined ways to square the two claims, but neither report offers a clear way to reconcile these competing narratives. Catalyst, a Democratic data firm, does not mention a word about the partisan makeup of the electorate, despite having the data to do so. The Pew report, meanwhile, is framed around explaining how Republicans won the House popular vote by three points — an important result, but one overshadowed by the Democratic hold on the Senate and the razor-thin Republican House majority.
Fortunately, our data at The New York Times can help piece together what remains of the puzzle. Over the past few years through Times/Siena College polls, we have interviewed tens of thousands of voters nationwide and in the crucial battleground states and districts. This data can be linked to voter registration files—the backbone of both the Catalyst and Pew reports—that show exactly who voted and who didn’t (though not who they voted for, of course), including in the states and districts that decided the midterm election. .
The findings suggest that turnout was largely typical of a midterm election and helped Republicans nationwide, but there are good reasons to doubt whether it was as helpful to the party out of power as it has been in previous midterms.
It certainly wasn’t enough to overcome what really set the 2022 midterm election apart: the critical sliver of voters who were turned off by specific Republican candidates, Donald J. Trump’s “stop the theft” movement, and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. .
At a glance, a typical mid-term electorate
To some degree, each midterm leans toward the party out of power, and has an older, whiter electorate. Last November was no exception. Just consider these numbers for 2022 voters nationwide:
73 percent of registered Republicans (defined by whether someone is registered as a Republican or participated in a recent Republican primary) turned out in 2022, compared to 63 percent of registered Democrats. The 10-point turnout advantage meant that Republicans narrowly outnumbered Democrats among 2022 voters because there are about five percentage points more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. by this measure.
Only 45 percent of Black and 38 percent of Hispanic voters attended, compared to 58 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to Census Bureau data. The findings are consistent with data from voter registration files and the actual results, as we reported last fall, along with the Pew and Catalist reports, showing weak turnout among Black voters.
Voters over 65 represented 33 percent of the electorate, according to the L2 data, compared to just 10 percent for those 18 to 29.
All of these patterns are consistent with typical midterm turnout.
The size of the Republican registration advantage is almost exactly in line with the available historical data. It also lines up nicely with our pre-election ratings, which you can see for yourself in our final (and very accurate) Times/Siena polls.
And as we reported in December, this basic story is playing out in the battleground states as well. Republicans outvoted Democrats everywhere, including in the very states where Democrats stood out.
All of this seems to add up to an extreme Republican turnout advantage, powered by an older, whiter and more Republican electorate.
But perhaps surprisingly, there are reasons to think that the actual turnout advantage for Republican candidates may not have been nearly as large as these figures suggest.
Just start with the Pew report, which found that Trump voters were four points more likely than Biden voters, 71 percent to 67 percent. That’s a significant advantage, but it’s less than half the size of the 10-point Republican turnout advantage per registration. The Pew numbers actually suggest that the 2022 midterm electorate supported Joe Biden in 2020, even though registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats.
The Times data suggests something similar. According to our estimates, 69.1 percent of Trump voters turned out compared to 66.7 percent of Biden voters — essentially the same as the Pew figures, though coming even closer to parity.
These estimates are based on a statistical model that marries Times/Siena voting data and voter records (including one’s party registration) to predict how registrants voted in the 2020 election. I forced you through that annoying sentence because it means that these estimates are completely consistent with and inclusive of all those various Republican-friendly turnout figures offered earlier: Our estimate is that Republicans outvoted Democrats by 10 points but that Trump voters still outvoted . Biden voters by just two points.
Looking at the data more closely, the source of this disparity is largely among Democrats. The registered Democrats who stayed home in 2022 were disproportionately likely to be those who sometimes vote Republican. The Democrats who turned out, on the other hand, were particularly loyal Democrats who voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. This is partly due to education – midterm voters are more highly educated – but the survey data suggests that this Democratic advantage was substantial. deeper.
It is worth being cautious about this finding. The 10-point GOP turnout advantage cited earlier is essentially a a fact The possibility that the practical turnout advantage for Republican candidates may have been only a third of that or less is an estimate based on fallible polling data. It also depends on accurately surveying a group of people – non-voters – who are very difficult for pollsters to measure.
But the Times and Pew data tell a very similar story, despite very different methodologies, and the precise primary results of the pre-election polls add further harmony. The possibility of some kind of hidden underlying Democratic advantage in motivation is also consistent with other data points about 2022, such as the stunning success of Democrats in special elections with very low turnout.
Close to equality on the battlefields?
The 2022 midterm election was not a simple election decided by a national electorate. It was unusually heterogeneous, with Republicans enjoying a “red wave” in states like Florida or New York while other states, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, could be argued to have ridden a “blue wave.”
As we shall see, nowhere near all the difference between these states can be attributed to participation. But part of the difference was the disparate turnout, with Republicans enjoying a much larger turnout advantage than they did nationally in states like Florida, while Democrats did better than they did nationally in states like Pennsylvania. And because our estimates suggest that the Republican turnout advantage nationwide was quite modest — more modest than the party registration figures suggest — the estimates also show that neither party enjoyed a significant turnout advantage in many battleground states where Democrats turned in above-average performances.
In northern battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio, Biden and Trump voters turned out almost identically, according to our estimates.
By contrast, Trump voters were more likely to turn out than Biden voters by about 10 percentage points or more in states like Florida and New York. In practice, this meant that the Florida electorate was most likely to vote for Mr. Trump by double digits, even though he carried the state by just three points in 2020.
Most states, including the key Sun Belt battlegrounds like Arizona and Georgia, fell between the Northern battlegrounds and the red-wave states like New York or Florida.
A decisive advantage among swing voters
The resilient Democratic turnout in many key Northern battleground states might seem like a key that unlocks what happened in 2022, but it explains less than you might think.
According to our estimates, Biden voters only narrowly outnumbered Trump voters in Pennsylvania and Michigan. But Democratic candidates for Senate and governor won in landslides that far exceeded Mr. Biden’s margin of victory. Similarly, Trump voters outnumbered Biden voters in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, where Democrats posted decisive victories that secured control of the Senate.
Ultimately, the Democratic performance hinged on something that went far beyond turnout: A segment of swing voters decided to support Democratic candidates in many critical races.
For all the talk of turnout, this is what set the 2022 midterms apart from any other in recent memory. Looking back over 15 years, the party out of power typically won independent voters by an average margin of 14 points, as a crucial segment of voters either soured the president or served as a check against the excesses of the party in power. .
This did not happen in 2022. Every important study — the exit pollsthe AP/VoteCast to study, the Pew study released this week — showed that Democrats narrowly won self-identified independent voters, despite an unfavorable national political environment and an older, whiter group of independent voters. A post-election analysis of Times/Siena polls adjusted to match the final vote count and the validated electorate shows the same. It took Democratic resilience among swing voters along with Democratic resilience in turnout, especially in the Northern battlegrounds, to almost allow Democrats to hold the US House.
In many swing states, Democratic candidates for Senate and governor often stood out among swing voters, clearly winning over a group of voters who were likely to support Mr. Trump for president in 2020 and certainly supported Republican candidates for the US House in 2022. This was most pronounced. . in the states where Republicans nominated stop-the-stealing candidates or where the abortion issue was prominent, such as Michigan.
Democratic strength among swing voters in key states allowed the party to overcome significant turnout deficits in states such as Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. That force turned Pennsylvania and Michigan into landslides. And it ensured that the 2022 midterm election would not go down as an easy Republican victory, despite their takeover of the House, but would instead look like a setback for conservatives.