Nothing is normal about these midterm elections. Analysts are slowly figuring that out

Nothing is normal about these midterm elections. Analysts are slowly figuring that out

July 18, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Nate Cohn’s write up of the New York Times/Siena poll this week opened with a similar observation.

With President Biden’s approval rating mired in the 30s and with nearly 80 percent of voters saying the country is heading in the wrong direction, all the ingredients seem to be in place for a Republican sweep in the November midterm elections.

But Democrats and Republicans begin the campaign in a surprisingly close race for control of Congress…

The poll of registered voters gave Democrats a 1-point advantage in the generic ballot, whereas likely voters tilted 1 point in favor of Republicans.

Anything can happen between now and Election Day, but at this point the incongruent data points suggest we could very well be in for an anomaly of a midterm, where who’s in the White House, how popular they are, and how satisfied voters are with their daily lives have little-to-no bearing on the final results in November.

Pundits, for instance, often refer to the exceedingly problematic mood of the electorate, where just 12% of registered voters say the country is on the right track. Normally, that would spell doom for Democrats, but instead (as I explained here) it suggests that nearly every voting demographic in the country is angry at something and they may not be holding Biden responsible for whatever it is.

Biden’s approvals certainly don’t help Democrats, but how much they actually hurt is a giant question mark this cycle. Many Democrats are outperforming them. Rather than this election becoming a referendum on how much voters like Biden, it may come down to a far more consequential question of which party they most fear having control.

As The Washington Post‘s Philip Bump notes, perhaps the weirdest aspect of Biden’s unpopularity is the fact that it “doesn’t appear to be doing significant damage to the rest of his party.”

The pattern so far has been striking: Biden’s net approval keeps sinking lower, but the generic ballot margin has hardly budged. In fact, it’s even moved slightly back toward the Democrats, perhaps thanks in part to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Again, none of this is predictive of where things are headed this fall, but it does essentially blow up all the analysis that previously hinged on historic norms tied to which party controls the White House and how popular that party’s president is.

In short, any time a crystal-ball prediction of this year’s midterms rests heavily on historical norms, presidential approvals, and right track/wrong track numbers without factoring in this year’s statistical aberrations, it’s not worth your time.