The average independent expenditure for Democratic candidates (either for that candidate or against his or her opponent) was about $240,000. The average for Republican candidates was about $225,000. Even if we restrict the analysis to candidates receiving at least a million dollars in outside spending, the average for Republicans was about $1.6 million and for Democrats about $1.8 million.
Moreover, the money was going into races that were already saturating the airwaves with advertisements, making it hard to overwhelm the opposition. The median amount of money raised by Democrats who faced more than $50,000 in independent spending was $1.7 million. The same number for Republican candidates was $1.3 million. This wasn’t David vs. Goliath. It was two Goliaths, beating each other to a pulp.
However, these conclusions come with two important caveats. First, we could not measure spending by the IRS organizations because it is not possible to link their spending to specific races. Second, we did not separate outside spending by parties from outside spending by other groups. The Republican Party was outspent by the Democratic Party in this election cycle, while the outside groups probably were tilted toward Republicans and helped make up the difference. But since our analysis only slightly under-predicts the actual number of seats won by the Republicans, fully accounting for both of these factors would affect a handful of seats at most—important, but hardly a game changer.
Republicans gained more than sixty seats in the House of Representatives and six Senate seats. They picked up six governorships and hundreds of seats at the state legislative level. They won control of nineteen state legislative chambers and took the majority in both houses in at least five states. How do the 2010 results compare to the results of other midterm elections? The charts here, created by John Fortier and Jennifer Marsico, look at seat gains for the party out of power in the House, the Senate, governor’s mansions, and state legislatures. They constructed a “power ranking,” based on the average of their rankings in those four categories. Using this system, the 2010 elections rank as the sixth most significant midterm elections since 1914—a high ranking, although not as high as the impressive House results alone. For comparison purposes, they have also included data in each category for 1994 when Republicans took back the House after 40 years in the minority and for 2006 when the Democrats made sizable gains.