Was there ever a #RedWave? Did it really exist? Was it just late? Will it Ever Come?
Two quick statements to make this easy and a sentence to set the table.
Republicans flipped the House as Democrats lost seats.
Republicans lost pretty much everywhere else.
Yes, Democrats dodged a bullet and Republicans lost a Senate seat or two, but Republicans are still better off in 2023 than they were in 2022 (at least at the Federal level). While that would normally be a cause for celebration, it sure feels more like a moral victory than an actual one. While both parties are welcome to argue over such victories, there's simply no arguing that Republicans definitely underperformed expectations in 2022.
So let's talk about why by using the old fashioned methodology of "coulda, shoulda, woulda."
THE COULDA: COULD A RED WAVE HAPPEN?
Yes, and we know this because of history. Every time a party takes the Presidency, the other party usually gains two years later. You see, Congress almost always shifts against the President because voters love to hedge their bets. Just look at the chart from Forbes below (although you can google it and see plenty of other such charts pop up).
Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 42, Obama, and Trump? Their party all lost House seats during those Presidencies. Voters, historically speaking, were ready to vote against the President's party and join the Red Wave.
THE WOULDA: WOULD A RED WAVE HAPPEN?
When it comes to the "woulda" we don't just have to ask history, we can also just the state of Virginia, where in November of 2021, a massive Red Wave actually did hit.
Republicans won BIG. They took back the Governor's mansion and the State House, and it wasn't even close. We could also talk about New Jersey in 2021 where Republicans also massively overperformed. The bottom line is voters who went Democrat in 2020 went Republican in 2021. Consider the results from CBS exit polls in 2021.
In 2021, independent voters in Virginia loaded up on Republicans. While most first term Presidents struggle with their approval ratings, the Biden approval has been historically low, and 2022 was a nice opportunity to be its own referendum on one of the most unpopular Presidents in a long, long time.
So would it happen? At the very least we could say this. The Republican Wave did happen....it just happened a year early.
THE SHOULDA: SHOULD A RED WAVE HAVE HAPPENED?
Consider this. In November of 2021, when that first Republican wave hit, Biden was...only......8 points underwater. Want to know what he was in November of this year? 12 points underwater....1 1/2 times worse. Just take a look below his the RCP Average.
In fact, when Joe Biden's approval rating was compared to every other President not named Trump through 600 days, you'd have to go all the way back to Harry Truman to find one as unpopular as Joe Biden.
Republicans won in 2021 by a lot, and Joe Biden's approval was only worse heading into 2022. Friends, this should have been a layup, it was a wide open hole to run into the endzone, first and goal at the one yard line. Seriously, pick your favorite sports metaphor. Republicans should have been looking for more Virginia like election wins.....and they didn't get them.
This will take too much time to sketch out here, only because every consultant seemingly has the perfect answer, and it's going to be debated heavily.... and frankly... should be. But here is a quick recap of the most popular.
Millennial Voters. Brookings already put out "exit polls show that young voters drove Democratic resistance to the ‘red wave’"
Suburban Housewives. USA Today has one that says "Women, suburban voters and Latinos help drive election results in 2022 midterms."
Trump. NBC says "Did Trump hurt Republicans in the 2022 elections? The numbers point to yes."
Women? Millennial's? Trump? Yes, on all 3. For me? The "which" doesn't really matter because they all contributed. The question isn't so much which of these groups sunk Republicans so much as it is, how did Republicans not win with them in the first place given just how high inflation and gas prices were!
The Quick Answer?
Fewer voters in both parties now say Biden is a factor in their midterm vote."
Look, despite Biden's unpopularity, voters weren't just going to vote straight Republican. While Democrats meddled in elections, supporting bad Republican candidates with shadow PACs, Republicans left voters questions unanswered, instead doubling down on Democrat woes and not articulating how things would be any different under Republican leadership.
Voters didn't like the state of things, but they also viewed Biden as less and less of a motivator as the election wore on. They wanted answers, and they didn't get them. It wasn't enough to beat up Biden, voters were begging for more and just didn't get it.
Simply put, the Republican response to Democrat messaging was inadequate. Hopefully Republicans find the right response message heading into 2024.