How the 2022 midterms fit into the history of wave elections

Uhile not all of Election Day 2022 Races are named, one trend is clear: This is not the big red wave that Republicans and some pollsters have been predicting. Recent history shows that the party that does not hold the presidency makes big gains in the midterms. Low approval ratings for President Bidendecades-high inflation, recession worries, and crime, which spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, all pointed to Democratic destruction.

Although it is increasingly clear that Republicans will take control of the US House of Representatives, they will likely have a very narrow margin. The GOP could still take the Senate, though it would also be by the slimmest of majorities.

To some extent, politicians expected a wave because past midterm elections has made waves. But that each midterm is a “wave election” is a relatively recent phenomenon, argues Kyle Kondick, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. If you look at elections before 2006, you can find much murkier results,” he says. “’98 [and] 2002 is a good midterm presidential election, but ’90, ’86, ’82, ’78, they were all a little harder to categorize.

Experts in American election history say that while this midterm election was unusual in many ways, there are some similarities to past midterm elections in terms of the national factors that led to smaller Republican gains.

Voters in 2022 went to the polls after two historic events: Overruling the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade, and a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in June 2022 and January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol and the subsequent bombshell hearings revealing that aides tried to convince President Trump that the election was not stolen.

Kondik claims that The 2022 midterm elections were a repeat of the 1978 and 1982 midterm elections. in that inflation was a big problem at the time. In 1978 the only by-elections during the Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, Republicans won 15 seats in the House of Representatives and three seats in the Senate, but Democrats retained their majorities in both chambers. In 1982, during Pres Ronald ReaganThe Democrats’ first term did not see as big a surge as they had hoped, although they did gain seats due to redistricting.

Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, says the scale of the issues at stake in 2022 reminds him of the 1998 midterm elections, after Democratic President Bill Clinton was impeachment because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. That Democrats gained seats in the House that year reflected “the real lack of public support for this impeachment, and Democrats took advantage of that.” (Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in February 1999.)

Julia R. Azari, a professor of political science at Marquette University, sees a more recent parallel, arguing that the 2022 midterm elections are a continuation of the gains Democrats made in the 2020 presidential election. As she puts it, “Accustomed we are to think of elections, especially midterm elections, as “mandates for change.” But this looked more like a status quo election, with slight swings for Republicans but some notable wins for Democrats as well.

Lack of 2022 election wave doesn’t mean America’s midterm era is over. “A lot of what happens in the midterms is just circumstantial,” Kondick says. “I wouldn’t say it necessarily means anything going forward.”

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman c [email protected].

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