Midterms are supposed to be the time for the opposition party to shine.
That should especially be the case when there is once-in-a-generation inflation and when the vast majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
Instead, President Joe Biden and the Democrats are in position to have one of the four best midterms for the party controlling the White House in the last century.
So what just happened?
The GOP’s “candidate problem”
Analysts, myself included, noted that Republicans seemed to have a candidate likability problem. Pre-election polling showed Republicans in all the key races had negative net favorability ratings. Democrats were broadly better liked than their opponents.
Many of those Republicans were endorsed by former President Donald Trump and had falsely claimed — at least at one point — that they believed he won the 2020 election.
The exit polls bear out Republicans’ “candidate problem.” In every Senate race (save Georgia) that Inside Elections rated as a toss-up or only tilting toward a party before the election, more voters said the Republican candidate’s views were too extreme than said the same for the Democrat.
We see this in gubernatorial elections, as well. Republicans nominated 2020 election deniers for governor in a number of blue or swing states. None of them has been projected a winner, and only Republican Kari Lake of Arizona has any chance of winning.
Two presidents on the trail
On the national level, there are two presidents in the spotlight: the current one (Biden) and the former (Trump). Both men sported negative net favorable ratings, per the exit polls.
The fact that you have a current president and a former president who are both unpopular isn’t unusual.
What is unusual is that of the 18% who viewed neither Biden nor Trump favorably in the exit polls, 40% of them voted for Democrats. The backlash against one president this year may have been canceled out by the backlash against the other.
“Abortion first” voters
Arguably, what truly made this midterm unique was abortion. Despite high inflation, only 31% of voters in the exit poll said it was the most important issue to their vote. A nearly identical percentage (27%) said abortion, and these voters overwhelmingly chose Democratic candidates for Congress.
This matches the dynamic we saw in the special House elections following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. Democrats started doing considerably better than before the Supreme Court ruling.