What happened to the red wave?

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 10, 2022

By Matthew Continetti, Washington Free Beacon

A cloud hangs over Republicans. The election did not go as well as they thought. They expected the results nationwide to resemble the results in Florida, where Republicans walloped Democrats. Didn’t happen. Florida now seems to be as exceptional politically as it is culturally.

Races across the country are much closer than expected. Many have yet to be called. Chances are that the House will flip to Republicans, and Senate control will depend on the outcome of Adam Laxalt’s race in Nevada and a December runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in Georgia. It may be a month before we know for sure, but Joe Biden can still become the fifth straight president to lose Congress in a midterm election.

Yet any Republican win will be surprisingly close, hard-fought, and ugly. The national exit poll and the Fox News voter analysis help us understand what happened. I came away from the data thinking that the 2022 campaign turned on President Biden, abortion, and which party best represents the American center. None of these factors helped Republicans.

Biden is an unpopular president. The exit poll puts his job approval rating at 44 percent. He’s at 43 percent in the Fox analysis. Since 1946, presidents with less than 50 percent job approval have lost an average of 37 House seats. Biden will do better than average.

Why? Because voters distinguished between the man and his party.

In 2018, 38 percent of voters said that they cast ballots to oppose Donald Trump. They broke 94 percent to 4 percent for the Democrats, helping the party gain 41 House seats. A third of the electorate said Trump didn’t figure into their votes. These voters went for Republicans, but only slightly — 52 percent to 44 percent.

In 2022, by contrast, only 32 percent of voters in the national exit poll said that they cast ballots to oppose Biden. This group broke for Republicans 95 percent to 4 percent. But an even greater number of voters — almost half of the electorate — said that Biden was not a factor in their votes. They went for Democrats 60 percent to 37 percent.

like abortion. If you read the polls in the run-up to Election Day, you would have thought that abortion rights were fading from voters’ minds. That was not the case. True, 31 percent of voters named inflation the most important issue in the exit poll. But abortion was close behind, at 27 percent. And these voters went for Democrats by a greater margin, 76 percent to 23 percent, than inflation hawks went for Republicans, 71 percent to 28 percent.

In the Fox analysis, a whopping 47 percent of voters said that the economy was the most important issue. Abortion came a distant second, at 10 percent. Yet Republicans carried only a 31 percent advantage on the economy, while Democrats held a 68 percent edge on abortion.

The public’s views on abortion are complicated. And there are plenty of places, beginning with Ohio, Florida, and Georgia, where pro-life Republicans did fine. Still, it’s clear that abortion rights played a greater part in this election than many observers assumed they would Tuesday morning. And in districts such as Virginia Seven, where Republican Yesli Vega lost to incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger, abortion may have been decisive.

The Republicans should have done much better on inflation and the economy. They lacked an effective and transparent message on how they planned to fix things. Complaining about rising prices and issuing the “Commitment to America” were not enough to generate a red wave.

Also, celebrity candidates like Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz don’t have as much credibility on the economy as traditional GOP business types. (Trump was both a celebrity and a businessman, of course.) A complicated issue matrix and vague GOP messages on the economy and life produced a muddled election result.

Finally, since 2016, the GOP has been estranged from the middle of the country. I don’t mean the Midwest — I’m talking about independents, moderates, and suburban voters. Independents went 48 percent to 42 percent for Trump in 2016. Moderates went for Clinton, but by a relatively small eleven-point margin. And Trump won the suburbs by five points, allowing his overwhelming rural margins to put him in the White House.

It’s been downhill from there. In 2018, independents went for Democrats 54 percent to 42 percent. Moderates broke for Democrats by a 26-point margin, and the suburbs split. In 2020, according to the national exit poll, independents went for Democrats 54 percent to 41 percent, moderates broke for Democrats by a 30-point margin, and Democrats won the suburbs 50 to 48 percent. Fox had similar results.

This year, independents went for Democrats narrowly. Moderates broke for Democrats by 15 points. And the suburbs narrowly went for Republicans in the national exit poll, while narrowly going for Democrats in the Fox voter analysis. Our national stalemate continued.

In retrospect, the 2016 election should be viewed less as a victory for Donald Trump than a loss for Hillary Clinton. Years spent overinterpreting the strength of both Trump and the “America First” agenda is one reason so many people, including me, are so surprised at this year’s outcome.

Since Donald Trump became president, Republicans have lost the House, the White House, and the Senate. If they win these institutions back in 2022 and 2024, it will not be thanks to his influence but despite it. The national GOP needs to recognize Biden’s irrelevance, settle on an economic message and agenda that wins public support, take lessons in how to talk about the right to life, and reconnect with independents, suburban voters, and moderates. Maybe the governor of Florida, who just won reelection by 20 points without Trump’s “help,” can teach them how to do it.

Matthew Continetti is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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4 responses to “What happened to the red wave?”

  1. Tim Kittle Avatar
    Tim Kittle

    “Finally, since 2016, the GOP has been estranged from the middle of the country. I don’t mean the Midwest — I’m talking about independents, moderates, and suburban voters.”

    I.e., indolent soy morons and butchy blue haired, face pierced self made mutants. Republicans (the ones who are actually conservative, who believe in our constitution and the republic it formed, as well as Almighty God) CANNOT appeal to this generation of undeveloped adolescent sissies, who have been subjected to 30+ years of government sponsored maleducation and a palpable decline in morality and basic human decency (“hat tip” for that to the Clintons and the Obamas, who are inherent reprobates, and the Bush-Cheney dynasty of cowards who are all too eager to send someone else’s kids into harm’s way while the culture descends even further). Our culture has levied a full scale jihad against true masculinity, which includes an open recruitment into deviant and mentally disordered sexual practices. This has now permeated our military, which could conceivably lose to a cardboard floatilla from Haiti while a number of our “valiant warriors” are busy transitioning. The America I knew as a kid and a young man is gone. That said, I won’t play along.

  2. Gail Avatar

    Republicans need to take abortion of the table. Neither the far Right (almost complete ban an abortions) nor the far Left (abortions up to delivery) can win. We should compromise and allow abortion for rape, incest, life of the mother and up to 15-16 weeks. This makes the Left’s attempt to use abortion as a political issue a fight for late term abortions which I believe is a loser. Neither side will be totally happy but the majority will be satisfied enough to not use it as a voting issue.

  3. David Avatar

    Trump did many good things for our country. Three Supreme court justices being one of the greatest, however the “Desanctimonius” comment just pushed me over the edge for Ron DeSantis. I’m not really going for the Godless conservatism.

  4. Don Konz Avatar
    Don Konz

    I believe election fraud is still the most likely reason that Go Evers won re-election, and several other anti-MAGA Democrats who amazingly won their races. It has become obvious to the majority of Americans the damage Biden and the Democrats are doing to destroy our country. And I’ve seen lots of grassroots efforts by volunteers for the Republican party and other citizens in Wisconsin and very little if any enthusiasm for the Democrat incumbents… yet we are all still supposed to believe that all the election fraud (from 2020) has been eliminated in our state?? A loud “NO!” is the answer! I think it’s becoming apparent that election fraud has controlled our elections here for decades! If we just realize what the Wisconsin political establishment’s strategy: that as long as the Dems (or RINOs) retain the Governors seat, the Attorney General’s seat and the Speaker’s (Vos), real “Election Reform” will ALWAYS be averted… because they are the gatekeepers! Lets see what information our US Military has on Wisconsin elections!

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