The Democratic Establishment is About to be Served a Sobering Dose of Reality
Updated: Apr 12, 2022
Within the past week, Democratic House and Senate Majority PACs announced over $182M spending for general elections this fall. Senate Majority PAC spending included over $98M in 5 competitive Senate races in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Democrats need to win 3 of these 5 races to maintain control of the chamber and hold seats in New Hampshire and Colorado. The Senate Majority PAC prioritized Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona, committing over $22M to each of these three states. They also pledged $14M in spending to Nevada and $12M to Wisconsin.
People are Over-Adjusted to Democratic Party Success
Since 2006, Democrats have been highly successful electorally. Democratic Presidential Candidates have won the popular vote by at least 2% in four consecutive elections. In 2016 and 2020, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden carried the popular vote by slight but solid margins. In 2018, Democratic candidates swept the country in a massive blue wave, winning the National House Popular vote by eleven points. Although Republicans performed well in 2010 and 2014 and won a trifecta in 2016, people are still mid-adjusted to the partisan lean of states. Even though Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are all slightly to the nation's right as a whole, Americans still see these states as “blue” states. Democratic Presidential candidates have carried these four red states 81% of the time in presidential elections during the past 14 years.
People will be shocked by what states look like in 2022 in a good environment for Republicans; we currently predict an 8.4 point swing to the right in the national environment from 2020 to 2022. In a state like Wisconsin, which Biden won by less than 1% in 2022, Republicans will be heavy favorites. And in states like Virginia, where Glenn Youngkin turned a 2020 10% Trump defeat into a slim victory in 2021, Republicans will be competitive.
Our analyses indicate that Colorado’s Senate Race is more likely to be very competitive than Wisconsin’s. Still, the Senate Majority PAC is too normalized to Democratic Party electoral success, pledging a massive sum to Wisconsin and nothing to Colorado. We give Democrats an 11% chance of flipping Wisconsin and Republicans a 10% chance of flipping Illinois—that’s how red this environment is. Do not forget about senate results in past red wave midterms; in 2010, Senate Democrats lost Illinois (D+18), and in 2014 Senate Democrats lost nine seats.
People Fail to Grasp how Tragic the 2024 Senate Map is for Democrats
Democrats are incredibly likely to lose control of the Senate in 2022. There are, of course, some unlikely scenarios where Democrats could maintain their majority (our Senate Predictions currently give Democrats a 16% chance of maintaining control of the chamber this November). Democratic candidates will either have to barely win an incredible array of close races or enjoy a considerable shock to the political environment by a notable geopolitical event. More important for Democrats is preventing a Republican super-majority in the Senate in the latter portion of this decade.
Republicans could easily flip ten states in the next two elections. Democrats have to defend 3 seats to the right of the nation’s center in 2022 (Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia) and 8 more (West Virginia, Montana, Ohio, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan) in 2024. Susan Collins is the only Republican who holds a seat in a state left of the nation’s center. Although Republicans are unlikely to flip 10 of these 11 seats, an incredible midterm where Republicans flip four Senate seats could completely open up this possibility. Democrats should be focusing a more significant proportion of their resources in states such as Nevada, New Hampshire, and even Colorado, but they aren’t. But being this conservative would be admitting defeat, but the sense of optimism could doom the party through the rest of the decade.
People Underestimate how Important Incumbency is in House Elections
Democrats are incredibly likely to lose the House in 2022 (probably an even more likely event than losing the House), but Democrats will likely find that their best fortunes lie in the House throughout the rest of the decade. Democrats will be completely locked out of power in the Senate from 2024 to 2030, and a 2-3% popular vote victory will still yield Republicans the presidency in the Electoral College in 2024 and 2028. But with Democrats enjoying solid gains in the House through redistricting (pending court cases), the systemic bias of the chamber has been greatly decreased, if not nearly removed. Democrats should primarily focus on regaining control of the House in 2024 after losing it in 2022.
For Democratic strategists, this means focusing efforts on seats that Republicans have some chance of flipping in 2022, but Democrats cannot rely on easily flipping them back in 2024. If Democrats invest money protecting seats like IL-14 (Underwood, D+7) and NY-17 (Jones, D+8) in 2022, they may be relieved to learn that even if Underwood and Jones are defeated, they will easily win the states back in 2024. But if Democratic funding is too aggressive, hoping to keep control of the House in 2022 by investing money trying to flip losing races such as AZ-01 (Schweikert, R+3), NE-02 (Bacon, D+2), and CA-45 (Steel, D+2), they will cede control of too many seats that will be much easier to hold than flip in 2024. One reason Republicans have such a good chance to flip the House this year was that they cut into the Democrats’ majority in 2020, flipping seats such as NM-02 (Herrell) and CA-48 (Steel) while also holding NE-02 (Bacon).
Summary: Democratic Strategists should be far more conservative in 2022, focusing on taking back the House in 2024 and preventing a Republican super-majority later in the decade.