For months, Democrats defied midterm gravity. Now, it looks like they may be coming back down to earth.
The president’s party almost always does poorly in midterm elections, and at the beginning of the year it looked like that trend would continue in 2022. But after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Democrats experienced rise in polls.
The congressional general election ballot is a poll question that asks people across the country which party they plan to vote for for Congress (without naming specific candidates). And as recently as October 13, Democrats held a 1.1 percentage point lead in the FiveThirtyEight generic polling average in Congress. Now, however, Republicans lead in this polling average by 0.5 points, suggesting the national mood has shifted back toward the GOP.
Individual polls generally confirm this trend. I compared general ballot polls with a FiveThirtyEight rating of B+ or higher from October to the same polls conducted in September. On average, they showed a shift of 1.2 points towards the Republicans. This included 4-point changes from two of the top pollsters in the business, Monmouth University and Siena College/The New York Times Upshot.
Generic vote polls are trending toward the GOP
September and October generic congressional voting polls conducted by pollsters with a FiveThirtyEight rating of at least B+
|Pollster||Priest.||September survey||October survey||Change|
|Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies/NBC News||RV||EVEN||D+1||D+1|
|Siena/New York Times Upshot||LV||D+1||R+3||R+4|
This change also affected FiveThirtyEight’s medium-term forecasts. Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate have dropped from 66 to 100 on October 13 to 55 to 100 today. And Republicans went from a 69 in 100 chance of flipping the House on October 13 to an 80 in 100 chance today.
Republicans’ chances in the House of Representatives have increased so much because forecasts expect the final margin for Republicans to be even better than generic vote polls currently show. The forecast predicts that Republicans will win the national House vote by 4.0 points, on average.
How does the forecast go from 0.5 points to 4.0 points? For one thing, Democrats are not fielding a candidate in 23 House districts this year, so they won’t get a single vote there. By comparison, there are only 14 districts where Republicans are not fielding a candidate. However, all the uncontested districts were already safe for the other party, so this should not affect the seat breakdown.
In addition, our generic ballot survey average includes surveys of adults, registered voters and likely voters. But if you’re interested in who’s going to win the election, you’re most interested in polls of likely voters. And probably the voter polls tend to be better for Republicans than the other two types. For example, if we averaged the generic ballots using only likely voter polls, the Republicans would lead by 1.1 points, not 0.5. And here are the four most recent generic ballots that have released numbers among both registered voters and likely voters:
Arguably, voter polls tend to be more Republican
The four most recent generic congressional vote polls released numbers among registered and likely voters
|Pollster||Dates||RV Poll||LV Poll||Shift|
|Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies/NBC News||October 14-18||D+1||R+1||R+2|
|YouGov/The Economist||October 16-18||D+1||R+1||R+2|
|Siena/New York Times Upshot||October 9-12||R+1||R+3||R+2|
Finally, generic ballots historically tend to get worse for the presidential party as the election approaches. The chart below shows how FiveThirtiEight’s generic voting average has moved over the past 90 days in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018. As you can see, the president’s party has lost ground in the last month of every year except 2018.
Sure, we’re only two weeks away from Election Day and millions of Americans have already voted early or absentee ballots, but there’s still time for the polls to improve for Republicans. On average, in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018, the margin of the generic vote was 1.2 points worse for the president’s party in the last 15 days.
But that doesn’t mean the Dobbs decision didn’t make a difference. Look at that chart again. The 2022 line (along with the 2014 line) is at the very top of the chart. In other words, the Democrats may be losing ground from here on out, but they’re starting from a higher baseline than usual. And without the boost Democrats received over the summer, we might have been forecasting a so-called “red wave” — a Republican landslide of 6-10 points. While the possibility of another voting error in favor of the Republicans means the outcome is still on the table, 2022 is more likely to be a more modest Republican victory. It could have been a lot worse for the Democrats.
Aaron Bicoffe contributed research.