Our most recent book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and congressional elections.
Here’s a figure about the 2022 midterm elections that might surprise you: Republicans won the national House popular vote by three percentage points — 51 percent to 48 percent. They still won by two points after adjusting for races in which only one major party was on the ballot.
Yes, that’s right: Republicans won the popular vote by a clear if modest margin, even as Democrats gained seats in the Senate and came within thousands of votes of holding the House.
If you’re looking to make sense of the 2022 election, the Republican lead in the national vote might just be the missing piece that helps fit a few odd puzzle pieces together.
The national polls, which showed growing Republican strength over the last month of the campaign, were dead-on. On paper, this ought to have meant a good — if not necessarily great — Republican election year.
How did the Democrats survive? Perhaps the simplest explanation: On average, they had better candidates thanks partly, but not completely, to weak Republican nominees.
The “MAGA” Republicans — as characterized by The Cook Political Report, based on their backing from Mr. Trump in the primaries — ran far behind the mainstream Republicans. This alone does a lot to explain the Republican showing in key Senate races in which Mr. Walker, Dr. Oz, J.D. Vance and Blake Masters underperformed or lost.
But as tempting as it might be to assume that “bad Republican” nominees are mainly to blame, strong Democratic candidates probably made a difference, too.
Nationwide, Democratic incumbents enjoyed a modest incumbency advantage of a few percentage points — enough to stay standing in a red tide, even if they might have been submerged in a red wave. Almost by definition, incumbents are relatively good candidates (the bad candidates are less likely to become incumbents, after all), and they often enjoy additional advantages in fund-raising and name recognition.
Similarly, there were not many races where Democrats nominated progressives who might have alienated swing voters. Overall, progressive candidates — as defined again by The Cook Political Report’s primary score card — fared about a point worse than more typical Democrats. But there are few races where moderate Democrats can really argue that progressive nominees cost them victory.