Democrats pushed back against historic trends in the 2022 midterms, overcoming broadly negative economic attitudes and Joe Biden’s unpopularity to hold more seats than typical in the face of such headwinds.
Their competitiveness came down to a variety of factors – support for abortion rights, negative views of Donald Trump, rejection of election denial, broad backing from young voters and surprising strength among independents among them. The result was a battle in the trenches, district by district and state by state, for House and Senate control.
The hurdle for Democrats was high with 76 per cent in ABC News exit poll results rating the economy negatively, 24 percentage points more than two years ago when Biden took office and 45 points more than in the last midterms four years ago.
Additionally, 47 per cent said their own finances have gotten worse in the last two years, the most dating to 1982 and just 44 per cent approved of Biden’s work in office, among the lowest midterm presidential approval ratings in 40 years.
All those typically produce deep losses for the party in power. Yet the Democrats bucked the trend. Even with several Senate seats and House control unsettled in the wee hours, it was clear they’d dodged the level of damage usually associated with this extent of discontent.
Abortion was one factor. It ranked a strong second as the top issue – behind inflation – and voters who picked it went for Democratic candidates by 76-23 per cent. Among all voters, the Democratic Party led by 53-42 per cent in trust to handle abortion. Six in 10 said it should be legal in all or most cases, up nine points from just two years ago, as many were critical of the US.
Supreme Court decision eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion. In fact, women were 11 points more apt than men to cite abortion as their top issue, but women did not turn out, nor vote Democratic, in larger than usual numbers.
Then there were young voters, age 18 to 29. Within this group, 44 per cent picked abortion as their top issue, twice as many as those that picked inflation. Among voters age 30 and older, far fewer named abortion as their top issue – just 25 per cent. While young people made up about 12 per cent of voters – their typical midterm turnout – they voted Democratic by 63-35 per cent, as in a winning Democratic year.
On another front, days before his pending announcement of another run for the White House, rejection of Trump was as broad as it was of Biden: 58 per cent saw Trump unfavourably, with 56 per cent feeling the same of Biden.
Other results pointed to election confidence. Countering election denial, 79 per cent of voters were confident in the fairness and accuracy of the elections in their state. A plurality, 47 per cent, were very confident and those very confident in their elections backed Democratic candidates by 70-28 per cent. Further, voters by 61-35 per cent said Biden was legitimately elected. The House vote among that majority was 74-24 per cent, a 3-1 Democratic margin.
Then there were independents. Nationally, in strong Republican years, they break for the Republican Party — by 7 points in 2016, 14 in 2014 and 19 in 2010. This year, independents split 49-47 per cent between Democratic and Republican House candidates.
While 93 per cent of Democrats said Biden was legitimately elected, so did 64 per cent of independents, while only 28 per cent of Republicans felt this. And among independents who accepted Biden as legitimate, 68 per cent voted Democratic for House — another result that helped stanch the party’s potential losses.
A summary of state-by-state exit poll results in key races follows.
With no winner Wednesday morning, exit poll results were full of reasons why the Arizona gubernatorial race was so close. Democrat Katie Hobbs was helped by a 17-point margin among college-educated whites, a group that split essentially evenly in 2018 when Republican Doug Ducey won.
Yet Republican and 2020 election-denier Kari Lake struck back with a 95-point margin among the 35 per cent who do not think Biden legitimately won the presidency in 2020. And the two were neck-and-neck in massive Maricopa County, 50-49 per cent, Lake-Hobbs.
In another still-unsettled race, moderates, who made up 42 per cent of Arizona voters, backed incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly over Republican Blake Masters, 63-33 per cent. But 52 per cent said Biden’s policies are mostly hurting the country, and they went for Masters, 87-9 per cent.
Kelly did well in his home Pima County, while Masters had a lead in the rest of the state. In one difference, 54 per cent percent said political newcomer Masters’ views are too extreme; fewer, 43 per cent, said the same of Kelly’s, though these exit poll results were still preliminary.
A growing Republican electorate may mark an end to Florida’s position as a swing state, with incumbent Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio securing decisive victories against their Democratic opponents. Florida Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 14 points, up from 8 points in 2020 and 4 points in 2018 to the widest GOP margin in exit polls since 1988.
Notable swings among Hispanic voters, particularly non-Cuban Hispanic voters, also helped DeSantis and Rubio win. Hispanics voters overall broke for DeSantis by 15 points, 57-42 per cent, compared with a 10-point win for Democrat Andrew Gillum in 2018. This included a 5-point DeSantis win among non-Cuban Hispanic voters, a sharp reversal from 2018, when they went for Gillum by 30 points.
Shifts among non-Cuban Hispanic voters were also similar in Rubio’s race. By region, voters in Miami and the Gold Coast, the state’s most Democratic region, were evenly split in both the Senate and governor’s races, compared with a +30 Democratic margin in the 2018 gubernatorial race and +16 when Rubio was last elected.
In the Senate race, Republican Herschel Walker, who was embroiled in a personal scandal, was seen as having good judgment by just a third of Georgia voters; half said the same about Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock. At the same time, Warnock was seen as having views that are “too extreme” by 49 per cent, vs. 43 per cent who said so for Walker.
The winner on the gubernatorial side, incumbent Governor Brian Kemp, improved over his 2018 matchup with Democrat Stacey Abrams by shoring up support among key Republican groups, including conservatives (+80 points, vs. +67 in 2018), rural and small city residents (+35 points, vs. +16 in 2018) and evangelical white Christians (+83 points, vs. +77 in 2018). Independents also were a factor, voting 49-48 per cent, Kemp-Abrams; they went 54-44 per cent, Abrams-Kemp, in 2018.
- An AFP report