2022 Midterm Results: What I Got Wrong

When fate serves you a humble pie, you must eat it, or risk an even worse fate in the future. My midterm picks wound up being the worst prediction I’ve ever made in politics. The only defense I have is that I was wrong in good company. This midterm took everybody by surprise.

Humble Pie
Join me as I eat my humble pie!

First, let’s look at some things I got right. To my knowledge, I was the first to say that Kathy Hochul was vulnerable and the race for New York Governor would be surprisingly competitive, ending in single digits.

This is indeed what happened and my assessment of Hochul +6 turned out to be dead on.

I also sounded the alarm early about some of the candidates that Republicans were nominating. For example, I pointed out that not only would Doug Mastriano lose in Pennsylvania (an easy prediction to make), but that he had a good chance of underperforming the Republican gubernatorial nominees in much bluer New York and Oregon.

This too, is what happened. Lee Zeldin (who, I argue, should be the no-brainer for next RNC Chair) wound up outperforming Mastriano by almost 10 points in a state 22 points to the left of Pennsylvania in 2020.

I also sounded the alarm on Kari Lake. While she mesmerized certain parts of the Republican base, I always found her to be a phony. She was trying too hard to be a Trump warrior. Her constant focusing on 2020 would be bad for the general election, I argued. That too, is what happened.

The final House generic ballot will be something like R+4. That was more than most polls suggested, but my R+6 idea was too optimistic. I thought that retaliation against the covid regime would matter much more than it did. To our eternal shame as a nation, the biomedical security state had little impact.

The more robust historical fundamentals were certainly against Democrats this cycle – all but one, that is.

  1. The economy was slow, with two straight quarters where GDP shrunk (which until this year was always the definition of a recession) and 40-year high inflation. But people still had their jobs, so I and other commentators probably adjusted this factor worse than it really was, even if it was still bad.
  2. The incumbent always has a penalty in a midterm.
  3. The incumbent is historically unpopular, with an approval rating in the low-40s at best, because he unambiguously sucks.
  4. Republicans were gaining in registration. Gallup measured more Republicans than Democrats for the first time in a while.
  5. Republicans handily turned out more in primary contests this year, which are more predictive than low-attention special elections.

Candidate quality was the fundamental that wound up mattering the most in this midterm and that is what went wrong for Republicans, against my expectations despite my sounding the alarm about our tickets being weak.

Of all the historical fundamentals, candidate quality usually matters the least, but it does matter, and in a polarized, closely-divided country, every advantage or disadvantage counts.

However, this midterm was more than just a generic candidate quality issue. We even managed to see a Republican with corruption issues outperform Trump’s chosen candidates – Kari Lake and Blake Masters – in Arizona by many points. Why?

It turns out that Democrats running on “democracy” did matter – just not in the way I or they interpreted it. They tried to sell voters on the idea that Republicans retaking power would threaten democracy. Voters did not buy this. They did, however, not appreciate Trump and his candidates being sore losers who questioned their judgment in the previous election, and punished them for it accordingly.

My error was in believing that Trump not being on the ballot meant that this line of attack was irrelevant. It was visible, but I did not assign it the importance it wound up having. By using “democracy,” Democrats succeeded (but not in the way they expected) in making select races a referendum on Trump despite his not being in power.

It is now beyond dispute that independents and even a certain slice of Republicans (Democrats got more Republican defections than vice versa) now hate Trump so much that their feelings distort the historical fundamentals. That is the overwhelming lesson from this midterm and it is where I went so wrong.

The real divergence in candidate quality was simple. Republican candidates who ran as their own people on issues overperformed or won. Republican candidates who voters saw as soldiers in Trump’s legion underperformed or lost. There was an average of five points between these two categories, but sometimes it was a lot more.

That made the difference. Republicans did well in the national generic ballot, but unfortunately for them, the vote had an uneven distribution. Oddly, geography worked against Republicans this time. That outcome, driven by poor candidate selection, is what I missed.

Loose Ends

What about abortion? Did the fall of Roe save Democrats after all? Was I wrong there, too? The answer is yes and no.

The landslide victories of many anti-abortion governors and strong performances by Republican candidates when they were not so easily tied to Trump showed that the Dobbs decision didn’t matter as much as Democrats thought it would. Overwhelmingly, the pattern was one of rejection of Trumpian megolomania. Contrary to some reporting, there was no “youthquake.”

The idea that Dobbs would bring a surge of younger voters and cause the rejection of abortion-restricting candidates nationwide does not stand up to scrutiny. However, abortion did play a role in two of the most important states: Pennsylvania and Michigan. As expected, Josh Shapiro handily triumphed and, shamefully, Gretchen Whitmer the lockdown queen was reelected. They prevailed even more than the most optimistic expectations, though. What did their opponents have in common? They ran on harsh abortion restrictions.

Put simply, that is not popular in the rust belt, and Republicans saw that firsthand on November 8th.

In a post-Roe world, Republicans are simply going to need to compromise on abortion in most places. It’s that simple and I said as much early.

I was wrong about abortion not mattering in Michigan!

Conclusion

Again, this election was easily the biggest miss I’ve ever had. Where did I go wrong?

  1. Regretfully, retaliation for covid did not matter nearly as much as I thought it would.
  2. Democrats succeeded in making certain races a referendum on Trump despite his not being on the ballot.
  3. Hatred of Trump is now so strong among independents and certain Republicans that it can now distort historical fundamentals.
  4. Abortion didn’t matter much nationally, but it did on the margins in key battleground states.

I’m happy to have been right on certain directions in this election, particularly on New York and sounding the alarm about Trump’s statewide candidates. If I’d assigned that more importance, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as wrong as I wound up being.

Ironically, this election went back to the foundation in Stumped – persuasion matters and whoever can tug most at cognitive biases and emotional instincts has a distinct advantage in getting votes. Things are not as deterministic as they appear.

As for 2024, the Republicans’ disappointing midterm puts Brandon in a much better position. He remains historically unpopular and two-thirds of Americans don’t want him to run again, but the midterm results mean that a party challenge is a lot more unlikely, and the incumbency advantage would be his if he chooses to run again – two crucial keys to the White House. Democrats no longer have their backs against an abyss, even should they face Ron DeSantis. We’ll just need to see what happens, especially with the economy.

On another note, now’s as good a time as ever to announce the rebrand of this blog I’ve long envisioned. My election picks flopping is fortune’s invitation for me to be more circumspect, professional, and less abrasive when discussing, much less predicting political events. You can find such content on my revived Polybius Report here.

Despite my political posts doing well, this blog will be moving away from such posts and focusing on lifestyle and historical content, along with my entertainment content like The Fall of the Fated Queen. Trying to divide attention between those subjects and politics no longer seems feasible to me. I will leave some of the better political posts up and the posts where I need to maintain accountability, such as these last two, but politics will no longer be a focus here going forward.

Let’s just say I want to focus this blog more on soft power than hard power, because it is less divisive and more palatable for the career path I’ve been on. I’ll still remind you of the Polybius Report, though.

That is the direction fate is giving me after getting this one so badly wrong, so I’ll be taking it.

Read Lives of the Luminaries to see examples of greater people and their encounters with fate.

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