2022 Midterms: Two Weeks Out

We’re now just two weeks from November 8’s midterm elections. It’s time for another set of data analysis from your favorite political pundit. (Wait, I’m your favorite, right? Top three maybe? Top 50? Do you like me at all? Hang on, do you hate-read this column? That makes sense. Sometimes I hate-write it.)

Throughout 2022 — from January to May to earlier this month — I’ve been convinced that the Republicans would win big in the House of Representatives. When it came to the Senate, however, I’ve vacillated. In May, I thought Republicans would narrowly win control, but earlier this month I settled on a path for Democrats to get to 50, even if I considerably disagreed with others’ estimates that Democrats were 70 to 80 percent likely to retain the Senate while having a realistic shot at 52 seats. (Others’ estimates have since fallen. PPFA’s prescience should never be questioned.)

I’ve gone back and forth on that one, so might it be time to go back again? Will Republicans take control of both chambers?

I’ll answer that question soon. First, let’s check in with the House.

Part I: The House of Representatives

PPFA, October 3: “I don’t think the last month will be good to the Democrats.”

The Democrats’ chances for holding Congress were already bad. They’ve gotten worse.

To illustrate, let’s do another check-in with the big three “indicators” that help us predict the fate of the House, comparing them to benchmarked data from my prior posts:

  • A) President Biden’s approval rating;
  • B) The generic ballot; and
  • C) A Congressional district breakdown

A) President Biden’s approval rating.

As I discussed at the beginning of the month, President Biden’s approval rating rallied over the summer, but I didn’t think it had hope of reaching the kind of numbers where he could be inoculated from the quadrennial disease that infects presidents’ parties in midterm elections. The only presidents that have withstood these longstanding midterm patterns were those with approval ratings in the 60s.

So where’s Biden at now? Have his numbers kept climbing? Let’s take a look at his Real Clear Politics presidential approval average today compared to where it was at my last House analysis.

Clearly, Bidenmentum has totally petered, and he’s still a drag on the party. It’s a great indicator for the GOP.

B) The generic ballot

Like Biden, his party rallied in the polls over the summer. The low point for Democrats in the generic ballot came about a month earlier than Biden’s, after which June’s Dobbs v. Jackson inflection point helped them rally. The last time I updated this stat, also on October 3, I noted that on “June 14, I benchmarked Republicans at a 3.5-point advantage according to RCP and 2.4-point advantage according to 538. Today, the GOP holds a 0.9-point lead in the RCP average while the Democrats hold a 1.3-point lead with 538.”

It was a great run for them; heading into October, many thought they had the lead nationally and would push back on historical patterns and keep the House.

Those people were not PPFA readers. As I wrote at the top of Part I here, I thought things were about to go south for them as voters made their final decisions during a time of economic uncertainty.

Was I right? Here’s how the generic ballot has evolved:

As I expected, Democrats have fallen behind over the last two weeks, and they’re now in a place nearly as bad as they were before Dobbs. It’s important to note that the Democratic number has held relatively steady over the last few weeks, but GOP support has climbed. That means undecided voters, predictably, are breaking toward the Republican Party. That will be a theme for the next two weeks as well. It’s another great sign for Republicans.

C) A Congressional district breakdown

Finally, the last indicator acknowledges that the race to control the House isn’t actually just one election, but 435 different elections across our 435 Congressional districts. The party that wins at least 218 of these races secures the majority.

On October 3, here was the Cook Report’s breakdown of the 435 races:

Two weeks later, here’s the latest:

Not much change. Republicans start with 199 solid/likely seats, whereas Democrats start with just 176. With 60 competitive seats remaining (the “Toss Up”s plus the “Lean”s), Republicans need just 19 of them for the majority, while Democrats need 42.

Republicans are going to win the House, and they’re going to win it big. I’m revising up to 235 Republican seats to 200 for the Democrats. (I previously had it 230-205.)

As for the other chamber…

Part II: The Senate

If you’ve been reading my stuff all year, well, first, you have my sympathies. Second, you also know that House pick was no surprise. The Senate was always going to be the more competitive chamber.

At last check-in, I thought the Democrats could stumble into 50 seats and retain their constitutional majority thanks to the Vice President’s tiebreaking vote. They’ve been able to obtain this realistic path not because of the national climate — which, as we see with the House, is very much against them — but because the GOP nominated some questionable candidates in key battleground states. (Take a bow, Herschel Walker.)

And yet, with momentum turning back against the Democrats over these last few weeks, might these Republican candidates be able to ride a red wave from the House to the Senate? The answer is increasingly clear: Yes.

To settle on a “Two Weeks Out” prediction, we should again break down the map. I’d rather not repeat too much from recent Senate analyses (see Six Months Out, the Summer Preview, Four Weeks Out, and The Five States That Will Determine the Senate), so I’ll just say for now that nothing from the last couple weeks has backed me off the following equation as a reasonable “starting point” for Senate math:

  • Dems: 36 returning + 9 solid/likely + 2 PPFA picks = 47
  • GOP: 29 returning + 16 solid/likely + 3 PPFA picks = 48
  • Remaining: 5

(“Returning” seats are those not up for re-election. The “solid/likely” seats are from The Cook Report. The confident “PPFA picks” were revealed at Four Weeks Out.)

That leaves the five states in question: Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Whichever party is able to win at least three of those gets to the majority, as three more seats would bring Democrats to 50 + the VP or Republicans to the outright majority number of 51.

Like I did two weeks ago, I’ll address them from my most to least confident picks.

Battleground #1: Wisconsin

It was my most confident of the five before, and it remains so today. Senator Johnson will keep the state Republican for all the reasons I listed last time. Most convincing now is the consistent trend in the candidates’ polling averages:

Although the margin is just 2.8 points, the momentum is clear. Johnson is edging up toward 50% in a state where pollsters have considerably underestimated Republican turnout in recent cycles. I am now fairly certain Senator Johnson gets it to Republicans 49, Democrats 47. Four to go.

Battleground #2: Nevada

Nevada has inched past Arizona as my next most confident pick of these five battlegrounds.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has shown a bit of fight in her lately, lightly pushing back on Republican challenger Adam Laxalt’s rise. This state had been the textbook example of how polling leads have shifted to Republicans as pollsters move from Registered Voters (RV) to Likely Voters (LV) models:

By early October, it seemed as is Laxalt had taken the lead and wasn’t giving it back, which, combined with everything else Republicans have going for them this cycle, should make it a win for the GOP. And yet, recent polls show that Senator Cortez Masto is saying, “Not so fast!” She just led her first poll since August, and a sizable sample from CBSNews/You Gov shows it a one-point race.

On the other hand, that same poll has Laxalt at 49, which is darn close to a majority of likely voters having made up their mind. Throw in the undecideds that I still suspect break toward Republicans, and I still think Laxalt flips the state to the red column, making it Republicans 50, Democrats 47.

At this point, Republicans are just one seat away from the majority with three Senate races to go. If they win any one of them, they win the chamber. Put another way, I really think the Democrats are capped at 50 seats, unless they get a good break in Nevada. Republicans can climb as high as 53.

Rather than taking a deep dive into each one, which I’ll surely do again at some point, I’m going to save us all a bit of time by lumping them together. Here are the rolling RCP polling averages for Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, which are now my third to least, second to least, and least confident calls, respectively. (These ranges’ start-dates are shown in red in the lower lefthand corner, above which are the polling averages at the time. In the top righthand corner is their current polling averages.)

Democrats lead in all three states, but they used to lead by more. For the next two weeks, they’ll be hanging on for dear life as sweating Democrats watch from across the country. I fully expect all three Republican challengers to lead some polls, if not the polling average, before election day. If would be Walker’s first lead since Labor Day, and the first polling leads from Masters and Oz period. It’s going to happen.

Now, the Democrats might all hold on to those average polling leads and remain small favorites, but it’s right about here where I need to step out of my comfort zone to talk about how math works. Let’s say that Democrats have a 70% chance of winning each of these races. (In truth, I’d say they’re all a few points within 50-50, but I want to demonstrate a point.) What are the chances that two events with 70% likelihood both happen.

The math is simple: 70% X 70%, or 0.70 X 0.70. The answer is 0.49, or a 49% chance both happen. In other words, the chances of two 70% likely events both happening is only a coin flip.

Now let’s throw in a third 70% event. That’s 0.70 X 0.70 X 0.70, which comes to .343. So even if we grant a verrrry generous premise that Democrats have a 70% chance to win each of the final three states, then the chances of them sweeping all of them is just 34%. Republicans’ chances of winning at least one — and therefore a Senate majority — would be 66%.

So are Democrats still favored in all three of Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania? I don’t actually think so, but if they are it’s barely. As a result of the math, I’m left with a conclusion: as of two weeks out, Republicans are favorites to win the Senate. If pressed, I’d say the kind of momentum we’re seeing means they’ll get up to 52 seats.

Today’s featured image of the Capitol building is courtesy of David Maiolo from Wikimedia Commons, although I did crop out a lonely person on a Segway who may have mixed up the date of the January 6 insurrection.


4 thoughts on “2022 Midterms: Two Weeks Out”

  1. […] On Tuesday night, John Fetterman’s debate performance might one day show up in the dictionary under “cringe.” Following his stroke this summer, he should neither be in a high-pressure debate nor should he represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate. He should be home recovering. Dr. Oz will win Pennsylvania, which means the Republicans will probably win the Senate. […]


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