Democracy in Action « 2022 Midterm Elections
2022 Midterms: Despite Inflation and Economic Worries,
Red Wave Fails to Materialize

Trump Draws Blame For Underwhelming GOP Performance
(ema revised Dec. 7, 2022)
American democracy faced severe challenges, internal and external, in the Nov. 8, 2022 midterm elections.  The country was divided into two camps that seemed to find little to agree on.  Republicans remained the party of former President Donald Trump, who very actively engaged in the midterms even as he continued to claim that the 2020 election was stolen.  Meanwhile Democrats, led by President Joe Biden, could point to significant accomplishments despite their narrow majorities in Congress, but were vulnerable due to high inflation and economic worries.  The stakes were high, with some arguing that the very future of our democracy was at stake (1, 2).

History shows the party holding the White House typically suffers setbacks in midterm elections (>).  Most dramatically in 2010 (+), following Obama's election in 2008, Republicans achieved gains at all levels, gaining 63 House seats and six Senate seats.  In 1994, Republicans gained 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate. 

During the 2022 cycle, the political terrain shifted markedly as the year progressed.  Early on there was talk of a massive red wave, with Republicans looking to take back the House and the Senate.  By the end of summer 2022, following the Dobbs decision, Republican hopes had tempered significantly; Democrats grew optimistic that they would at least be able to hold the Senate.  Then, in the closing weeks of the campaign, Republicans appeared to surge, and talk of a big red wave was on again.  Ultimately, Democrats gained a net two governorships, gained a U.S. Senate seat, and did better than expected in the U.S. House, where Republicans only gained a nine-seat majority. 
Republicans achieved number of successes here and there (+) but fell far short of historic markers. 

Trump drew much of the blame.  While a normal midterm can be thought of as referendum on a sitting president, the 2022 midterms were a referendum on both Biden and Trump.  Trump lost.

Expectations for President Biden were low.  His approval ratings were "underwater" from Aug. 2021 and sagged to a low point in July 2022 (1, 2, 3).  It was thought Biden's low approval would drag down Democrats in races around the country.  While Biden was not a particularly dynamic president, he did have a couple of key points in his favor.  His administration restored a degree of order after the chaos of the Trump era, and under his leadership Democrats achieved major legislative objectives, including passing many elements of the signature Build Back Better agenda (1, 2, 3, 4). 

Former President Trump
injected himself into the campaign throughout 2022 (+), making endorsements, holding rallies, and fueling 2024 talk.  His continued high profile put his political future, the future of Trumpism, and, some argued, the survival of America's democratic system on the ballot While Trump's base still believed in him, many Americans could not ignore the January 6 committee hearings, revelations following the the FBI raid of his home in Mar-a-Lago, and the New York attorney general's financial fraud lawsuit.  Doubts about Trump and "Trump fatigue" helped sway independent voters away from Republican candidates.  In a number of key races "exotic," extreme, and flawed Trump endorsed candidates prevailed in primaries but went on to lose in the general election. 

Inflation was the major concern for many Americans throughout 2022, reaching its highest levels since 1981 and hitting people at their wallets every day, whether at the grocery store or the gas pump.  Driven primarily by energy costs, the annual inflation rate peaked at 9.1 percent in June, then declined somewhat over the next three months, falling to 8.5 percent in July, 8.3 percent in August and 8.2 percent in September (1, 2).  One only needed to make a trip to the grocery store to see the high prices.  Republicans blamed the big spending programs passed by Democrats and their energy policies, but that ignored the fact that other countries, for example in Europe, were likewise been affected by inflation.

The U.S. Supreme Court's June 24 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade put abortion front and center in the election-year debate (1, 2, 3).  More than half the states adopted or were on track to adopt abortion bans (>) and some Republicans in Congress advocated legislation that would establish a national abortion ban at 15 weeks (1, 2).

Many other issues were at play in the midterms.  While the COVID pandemic was less of a worry after two difficult years, there were still thousands of new cases reported each day (>) and vaccine and mask mandates, lockdowns and other restrictions were hotly debated in campaigns around the country.  Crime rose during the pandemic, and was a significant issue (1, 2), as is the related issue of gun violence and mass shootings, exemplified by the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24 (>). Illegal immigration at the Southern border continues unabated, with border arrests at record levels (1, 2).  Homelessness (>) and affordable housing are obvious problems in many communities.  The national debt exceeds $30 trillion (1, 2, 3). 
Americans were largely preoccupied with domestic matters, but the threats from abroad have deepened.  The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was poorly handled. The apparent growing partnership between the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China is concerning (1, 2).  Putin's war on Ukraine (>), launched on Feb. 24, has cast a dark shadow, causing senseless suffering and destruction, forcing millions to flee, spreading ripples through the world economy just as it seemed to be emerging from the pandemic, and raising the specter of a nuclear confrontation.  China's provocative actions in the South China Sea and aggressive stance toward Taiwan likewise could escalate into confrontation, and the FBI warns that "counterintelligence and economic espionage efforts emanating from the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party are a grave threat to the economic well-being and democratic values of the United States (1, 2)."  There are also global challenges such as climate change, which appears to be causing or contributing to increasing and costly extreme weather events.  The growing number of refugees and displaced persons (1, 2), illegal immigration, environmental degradation, and traffic are not unique to the United States, and as the world's population increases toward eight billion and beyond (>) such problems will worsen.


Former President Trump loomed large over the midterms; he raked in money (+), made endorsements in races around the country (>), and held numerous rallies.  On the campaign trail, many Republican candidates echoed Trump and advocated an "America First" agenda.  At the same time Trump was facing multiple investigations.  The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol conducted public hearings starting on June 9, 2022 and running into October (1, 2), during which it "interviewed more than a thousand witnesses and reviewed more than a million documents."  On Oct. 21 the committee issued a subpoena to Trump (>).  Meanwhile, on Aug. 8 the FBI raided Trump's home in Mar-a-Lago, revealing that he had kept some highly classified documents (+).  On Sept. 21, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump and his associates charging "years of financial fraud (>)." 

There was considerable speculation as 2022 progressed that Trump might make an early announcement of a 2024 campaign for the White House, perhaps in Fall 2022.  This talk faded somewhat following the FBI raid, but accelerated in the week leading up to Election Day.  On Nov. 4 Axios reported that Trump operatives were looking at a possible 2024 announcement on Nov. 14.  Trump reportedly had to be talked out of announcing his candidacy at his Nov. 7 rally in Dayton, Ohio, but he did tout "a very big announcement" on Nov. 15. 

Through the primaries, the GOP message seemed to be a mix of "America First" Trumpism and traditional themes of tax cuts, limited government, and support for pro-gun and pro-life positions.  Candidates focused on issues such as election integrity and critical race theory, inflation ("Bidenflation") and immigration, and many raised questions about Biden's fitness if not his election.  Republicans were unrelenting in their criticisms of the "radical left," "socialism," and "wokeism." 
In terms of national Republican agendas, on Feb. 22, 2022 Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced an "11 Point Plan To Rescue America (>)."  The document prompted considerable discussion, but not many Republicans backed the entire plan.  On Sept. 23, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy rolled out a bland "Commitment to America," which focused on four broad themes: an economy that is strong, a nation that is safe, a future that is free, and a government that is accountable (1, 2, 3, 4).

Biden and the Democrats could point to significant accomplishments.  On Mar. 11, 2021 Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, on Nov. 15, 2021 he signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and on Aug. 16, 2022 he signed the "Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (1, 2)."  This piece of legislation gave Biden a major win just months before Election Day.  Beyond legislative successes, Biden appointed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, and, according to the Pew Research Center, he has "appointed more judges to the federal courts at this stage in his tenure than any president since John F. Kennedy, and his appointees include a record number of women and racial and ethnic minorities (>)."  Nonetheless, Republicans had much to work with, from high gas prices and energy policy to high levels of illegal immigration at the Southern border.

[message examples: D, R] 

The 2022 cycle were the most expensive midterms ever.  On Nov. 3, OpenSecrets projected that the cost of 2022 state and federal elections will exceed $16.7 billion (>).  This includes $8.9 billion by federal candidates and political committees, and more than $7.8 billion by state candidates, party committees and ballot measure committees.

There are two other key points to note about the 2022 midterms. 
U.S. House and state legislative races were affected to varying degrees, depending on the state, by redistricting following the 2020 Census (>, +).  Over recent cycles the number of women (>) and minority candidates has increased, albeit slowly. 

At the same time as 2022 midterm campaigns were being fought in states and districts around the country, there was an undercurrent of 2024 activity.  Both former President Trump and President Biden were subject of much speculation about whether they will run in 2024.  Biden would be 82 years and two months old on Inauguration Day 2025, and his age and not infrequent meandering during speeches raised questions.  Trump, many argued, was unfit for the job and a threat to American democracy.  Trump remained the preeminent force in the Republican Party, but other potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates were active, making endorsements, speaking at party gatherings, staking out policy positions, cultivating donors, and working to lay the groundwork for possible White House runs.  Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL) emerged from the midterms as a big winner and likely challenger to Trump.

In addition to focusing on 2022, the national party committees were also preparing for 2024.  Research departments at the DNC and the RNC routinely track potential presidential candidates of the opposite party.  Both the DNC and the RNC started their convention site selection processes; Republicans have picked Milwaukee, and Democrats are considering four cities.  On Apr. 13, 2022, the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee passed a resolution initiating "a transparent and fair review of the presidential nominating calendar" which led Democrats to serious consideration of changing their line up of early states, although the subject was ultimately put off until after the midterms.  On the Republican side, on April 14 the RNC voted to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates (+), a stunning move as the CPD has organized the general election debates since 1988.

The midterms put a clear check on Trump, and will likely end his aspirations for a political comeback.  In the days following the election, as Republicans and commentators took stock of the results, many blamed Trump for the GOP's underwhelming showing.  Looking ahead, America appears set for two years of gridlock.  The Republican House majority will check any large Democratic initiatives and likely engage in significant oversight activity and investigations. 

U.S. Senate
The balance before Nov. 8 was 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two Independents voting with the Democrats or effectively 50-50.  Thirty-five seats are at stake, 14 held by Democrats and 21 by Republicans.  There were six open seats.  No incumbents were defeated.  Democrats picked up one seat on Nov. 8 and the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia gave them a 51 to 49 majority.

Democrats had the narrowest of majorities in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.  Republicans were defending five open seats in 2022 compared to just one for the Democrats but they stood a good chance of reclaiming the majority.  However, former President Donald Trump actively made endorsements in Senate races as he sought to solidify his hold on the party (1, 2); these endorsements included novice candidates such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania (Apr. 9), J.D. Vance in Ohio (Apr. 15) (+), Herschel Walker in Georgia (May 24), and Blake Masters in Arizona (Aug. 2) and some of these proved to be poor candidates in the general election.  Additionally, some Republicans questioned Sen. Rick Scott's leadership at the NRSC. 
  ||  Cook Political Report  |  Sabato's Crystal Ball

U.S. House
The balance before Nov. 8 was 220 Democrats, 212 Republicans and three vacancies (>).  All 435 seats were at stake.  The balance after was 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats

Conventional wisdom was that Republicans would achieve significant gains in the House in midterms and hold the majority in the 118th Congress.  Reapportionment and redistricting were a factor in some races.  Six states gained seats due to reapportionment and seven states each lost one seat. Even with redistricting (>) following the Census, there were relatively few competitive seats (see Monopoly Politics).  There were 32 straight retirements (22D, 10R), 16 running for other office (9D, 7R), 16 defeated in primaries (10R, 6D) and 9 defeated in the general election (6D, 3R).  While Republicans did win the majority, they fell far short of expectations.  
DCCC  |  NRCC  ||  Cook Political Report  |  Sabato's Crystal Ball


The balance before Nov. 8 was 27 Republicans and 23 Democrats.  Thirty-six seats were at stake, 16 held by Democrats and 20 by Republicans.  There were eight open seats.  Democrats achieved a net gain of two seats taking the balance to 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

A Jan. 1, 2022 article in The Hill named Democrats as six of the most vulnerable incumbents (KS, ME, MI, NV, NM and WI) to just one Republican seat (GA).  Democrats held five of the six seats.  Democrats picked up Maryland and Massachusetts, where popular Republican governors were not seeking re-election, and Arizona, where a Trump-backed candidates fell short.  Former President Trump endorsed in many primary races, frequently weighing in relatively late in the campaign (>).  There was a proliferation of candidates in many races advocating "America First" policies, and arguing that incumbents or other challengers had not been sufficiently supportive of those policies.  On the Democratic side, few incumbents faced significant primary challenges.  Top issues in many governors races include the economy, education and handling of the COVID pandemic.  More than half of the 2022 races were non-competitive; the Cook Political Report listed 20 seats as solidly Democratic or Republican. 
DGA   |   RGA  ||  Cook Political Report  |  Sabato's Crystal Ball 

State Legislatures
Before Nov. 8 Republicans controlled 62 chambers and Democrats 37 chambers.  Democrats flipped four chambers: Michigan House and Senate, Pennsylvania House and Minnesota Senate, taking the balance to 58 Republican-controlled chambers and 41 Democratic-controlled chambers.

Republicans achieved a net gain of legislators.  As reported by the NCSL the nationwide balance of 7,383 total legislators, went from 3,980 Republican, 3,266 Democrat and 137 other, Independent or vacant an estimated final count of 4,033 Republican, 3278 Democrat and 74 other/Independent.

Ballot Measures
NCSL  |  Initiative and Referendum Institute

Local Elections
Elections for city and county offices are happening around the country throughout the year.  These are frequently nonpartisan.
U.S. Conference of Mayors
FOCUS: Mayor of Los Angeles

Memo Corner

Groups from across the political spectrum put out memos and reports describing the political terrain and the state of the electorate.  These can provide useful insights but may be colored by wishful thinking:
Dec. 7, 2022 - Impact Research [PDF]
Dec. 2, 2022 - Democratic Governors Association
Nov. 7, 2022 - Way to Win
Nov. 1, 2022 - Mike Lux
Aug. 2022 - Future Majority [PDF]
July 28, 2022 - Mike Lux
May 31, 2022 - NDRC [PDF]
May 16, 2022 - Democracy Corps [PDF]
May 5, 2022 - DLCC [PDF]
Feb. 2022 - Celinda Lake and Mike Lux [PDF]
Jan. 31, 2022 - Joe Trippi/The Lincoln Project
Dec. 15, 2021 - Doug Sosnik/The Brunswick Group [PDF]
Nov. 15, 2021 - DCCC [PDF]
Sep. 13, 2022 - KAConsulting/The Tarrance Group/RNC [PDF]
May 3, 2022 - NRSC [PDF]
Mar. 10, 2022 - RSLC [PDF]
Mar. 2, 2022 - Congressional Leadership Fund [PDF]
Jan. 27, 2022 - RSLC
Nov. 10, 2021 - NRSC [PDF]
Nov. 1, 2021 - RGA [PDF]

Potential 2024 Republican Candidates
Former President Donald Trump

The Office of Donald J. Trump:
Save America JFC:  |
External:  C-SPAN  |  P2020  |  P2016

Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) 
U.S. Senate Office:  |  |  @SenTomCotton
Cotton for Senate:  |  |  t@TomCottonAR
External:  C-SPAN  |  Congress.Gov  |  Open Secrets  |  Ballotpedia

Former Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Chris Christie:  Christie 55 Solutions  |  |  @GovChristie  |  Republican Rescue 
Chris Christie for President, Inc. [2016]
External:  C-SPAN  |  P2016  |  Ballotpedia

Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
U.S. Senate Office:  |  |  @SenTedCruz
Ted Cruz for Senate:  |  |  @TedCruz
ExternalC-SPAN  |  Congress.Gov  |  Open Secrets  |  P2016  |  Ballotpedia

Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL)
Governor's Office:  |  |  @GovRonDeSantis
Ron DeSantis for Governor:  |  |  @RonDeSantisFL
Friends of Ron DeSantis [PAC]:
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia

Former Gov. Nikki Haley (SC)
Nikki Haley:  |  With All Due Respect [11/19]
Stand for America:  |  |  @StandForAmerica
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia  ||  Draft Nikki Haley

Gov. Larry Hogan (MD)
Governor's Office:  |  |  @GovLarryHogan
An America United:
Larry Hogan:  |  |  @LarryHogan
Change Maryland, Inc:
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia

Former Vice President Mike Pence
Mike Pence:  @Mike_Pence
Advancing American Freedom:  | @AmericanFreedom
External:  C-SPAN  |  Ballotpedia 

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo:  |  @mikepompeo
Champion America Values PAC (CAVPAC):  |  |  @CAV_PAC
External:  C-SPAN  Ballotpedia

Sen. Tim Scott (SC)
U.S. Senate Office:  |  |  @SenatorTimScott
Tim Scott for Senate:  |  |  @votetimscott  TIM PAC (Tomorrow is Meaningful)
ExternalC-SPAN  |  Congress.Gov  |  Open Secrets  |  Ballotpedia

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