Talking heads have a way of convincing average newspaper readers and cable-news channel viewers that they have some magic sauce to understand voters and elections in a way the rest of us cannot. Well, guess what? That is categorically untrue.
Not only were political analysts with few exceptions, way off in forecasting the midterms (this is an actual science, so I do cut most slack on this – that having been said the misinterpretation of polling data and fundamental misunderstanding of the pulse of midterm electorate is something that needs to be fixed for 2026), they have been WAY OFF in analyzing them, showing the chattering classes are more out of touch than ever with the average US voter.
It’s pretty remarkable that themes of “democracy,” and “extremism” are the most common talking points besides the obvious impact of the Dobbs decision.
But what really happened in the midterms outside Florida? Here’s my take:
- The composition of the midterm electorate has changed the last two cycles – as more-educated voters shift their preferences from GOP to Democratic, this gives the Dems a built-in advantage in off-year elections and Special Elections. This is a direct contrast from the 1994-2014 period when the GOP had a built-in advantage in off-years and particularly in Special Elections.
- The impact of the Dobbs decision was obvious (many analysts claimed prior to November 8 that it has faded as an issues once the summer ended) and very clearly was going to motivate enough voters to tip the scales considering margins are tighter than ever in most competitive US elections and turnout is what matters these days more than persuasion. The idea that voters “swing” between the parties is a dated concept, rooted in the 1980’s (when Ronald Reagan had won 60% of the popular voter at the same time as Democrats controlled 34 Governorships) and the Clintonian 1990’s. It’s about turnout, stupid!
- Democrats delivered on the economy. Infrastructure, stimulus, Build Back Better. GOP attempts to appear as progressive-populists on the economy worked in 2020 with many, but in 2022, the collective Republican freak-out about student loan forgiveness, revealed to many drowning in student loan debt that the GOP’s mantra of upward mobility and empowering the working class was malarkey. The US economy is suffering less-severe inflation than any major industrialized nation and the Biden Administration has actively tried to fight inflation and help the working-class. If this sounds like a partisan talking point, fine, you can believe that, but understand that enough voters bought it!
- The media was so in a vortex of not talking about the Biden Administration’s tangible successes, they ignore any impact on the electorate of this success.
- Can we stop looking at approval ratings and using it as a tool to predict elections? Here in Florida we learned that in Rick Scott’s 2014 reelection, and national pundits now are trying to explain President Biden’s low-approval ratings while his party had a historic over-performance in a midterm. The commonly repeated explanation is that “voters disapprove of Biden but lied individual Democrats running in their states,” is something a third grader could formulate as a post-election excuse for being so wrong. This is where pundits need to wait for all the data and take some time and analyze it before making snap reactions that continue a pattern of creating false narratives around electoral politics and voter behavior.
Bottom line: All-in-all the punditry class has spent the last few weeks spinning, trying to explain electoral results they spent the previous several weeks convincing us was impossible. The explanations since have been largely reactive and not driven by data.