November 23, 2022


What Happened? (Sean Trende, November 17, 2022, Real Clear Politics)

What makes it all the stranger is that it looks like Republicans will notch a significant victory in the popular vote. As of this writing, they've received 51.0% of the vote to Democrats' 47.1%. [...]

So, what happened? There are three theories that I think work. First, though, it is worth examining two theories that don't work that well. The first such theory is that the Dobbs decision cost Republicans dearly. This is facially plausible - there's little doubt that Democrats received a shot in the arm from seeing Roe overturned, and poll after poll show Americans would generally like to see abortion remain legal in the early stages of pregnancy. The issue likely cost the GOP some winnable House special elections over the summer as GOP vote shares in polls dipped nationally. But by October, the GOP had clawed its way back in most national polling. More likely, Dobbs elevated Democratic enthusiasm to fall levels early, and the GOP eventually caught up. 

More importantly, the Dobbs theory doesn't jibe with two things we see. First, there were substantial gaps in gubernatorial outcomes, where governors who backed - or even signed - abortion bans ran well ahead of other candidates. Ohio's Mike DeWine signed a "fetal heartbeat" law, which effectively bans all abortions. His attorney general cast doubt on a story that a 10-year-old had to travel to Indiana to receive an abortion, hours before the victim was identified. Yet they all received 60% of the vote, along with Republican Supreme Court candidates who could control the future of abortion rights in Ohio. Senator-elect J.D. Vance ran well behind them, although abortion was not placed at the center of that campaign. Brian Kemp ran well ahead of Herschel Walker. Joe Lombardo ran ahead of Adam Laxalt. Even Kari Lake ran ahead of Blake Masters. Greg Abbott - who signed Texas' infamous abortion "bounty" law, seemingly paid no price. 

Finally, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that overall, Republicans received more votes. That's a problematic fact for the theory that the House underperformances were a function of abortion politics. [...]

So what does work? There are three parts to the explanation, none of which are mutually exclusive. 

1) The first is simply that candidates do matter. In the past decade, and especially after Trump's win in 2016, it has become fashionable among pundits (including myself) to wave away candidate issues. This cycle, though, candidate quality seems to have made a comeback. This fits the data nicely: Vance running behind DeWine (who was seen as governing in a more bipartisan manner than perhaps he deserved); Walker running behind Kemp; Masters running behind Lake. In the House there were scores of candidates who lost in swing districts that they probably should have won, and as you list the names you start to see why: Joe Kent, J.R. Majewski, Karoline Leavitt, Vega, and so forth. Even Lauren Boebert came remarkably close to losing.  

That many of these candidates were concentrated in swing seats didn't help the Republicans' cause, while better Republican candidates in bluer seats didn't quite get the push they needed. You can see this in Virginia, where 10th District Republican Hung Cao - an outstanding candidate - lost by just six points in a district Biden won by almost 20 points, while Vega lost by a similar margin in a district Biden won by half that margin.

Posted by at November 23, 2022 5:10 PM