Our most recent book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and congressional elections.
The 2022 election defied conventional wisdom and historical trends. In a typical midterm election year with one-party control of the presidency, House and Senate, the incumbent party would expect major losses. Instead, Democrats re-elected every incumbent senator and expanded their Senate majority by a seat, won the overwhelming majority of heavily contested gubernatorial elections, gained control of 4 state legislative chambers, and only narrowly lost the U.S. House.
Democrats won in the majority of heavily contested races, with electorates in these contests looking more like the 2020 and 2018 electorates than a typical midterm. Unlike recent midterms, which were wave elections with across-the-board, national swings, there was less of a national trend in the 2022 midterm. In this analysis we will present national results based on the U.S. House vote, where Republicans outperformed Democrats, as well as analysis from states that had highly contested races, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, where Democrats outperformed Republicans. Unlike other recent midterm years, our analysis shows a stark contrast between the electorate in areas with one or more highly contested House, Senate or gubernatorial races versus those with less contested races.
Gen Z and Millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6% among those who were eligible in both elections.1 Further, 65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022.
Extreme “MAGA” Republicans underperformed. Across heavily contested Senate, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races, voters penalized “MAGA” Republicans. Candidates who were outspoken election deniers did 1 to 4 points worse than other Republicans, contributing to their losses in important close races. Of course, election denial is one of many extreme positions associated with “MAGA” Republicans, so this analysis likely reflects relatively extreme stances on other issues, including abortion rights, as well as Republicans such as Kari Lake (Arizona gubernatorial) and Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania gubernatorial) who ran relatively insular campaigns.
Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. After Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, a disproportionate number of women voters registered to vote in states with highly contested elections. At the same time, polls showed Democratic women and men indicating they were more engaged in the election. While relative turnout by gender remained largely stable, Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).
Democrats largely retained their winning 2020 coalition in heavily contested races, with some exceptions. Turnout and support among voters by race, education, gender, and other demographic factors remained relatively stable in heavily contested races. Such stability does not usually occur between presidential and midterm years, demonstrating how the Democratic coalition blunted a Republican “red wave.” One notable shift includes Black voters. While they continued to play an outsized role in contributing to Democratic victories, Black turnout largely fell in contested races. Meanwhile, Democratic support among Black voters rose in Southern states with heavily contested elections, but fell in less contested states.