The overall results of the 2022 midterm elections are clear: Democrat candidates outperformed expectations in the election. Democrats will continue to control the U.S. Senate and have a large minority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats lost only one incumbent governor, Nevada, while picking up two open governorships in states where there was a Republican incumbent not running for re-election.
With a political environment that in past midterm elections was conducive for the party out of power to gain a significant number of seats in congress, why did the GOP fare so poorly?
We found a very clear and unprecedented answer in our data: Republican campaigns failed to inspire turnout among their key voter groups, while Democrats were able to energize their constituencies to show up at the polls.
New Post-Election Survey Approach for 2022 Midterms
We did something a little different in our VoterView election survey of 2022 midterm voters. We interviewed both midterm voters and registered voters who did not vote in the 2022 Midterm Election. This allows us to analyze the participation levels of registered voter groups and compare and contrast registered voters who participated in the 2022 Midterm Election with their non-voting counterparts.
Our survey of registered voters includes 1,155 mid-term voters and 674 registered non-voters that were interviewed 8 to 10 November 2022. This methodology has produced some results that shed additional light on why the Democrats beat pre-election expectations and the GOP underperformed.
Election Outcome Driven By Failure to Inspire Turnout
There has been a myriad of explanations for the GOP’s results in the 2022 Midterm Election: poor GOP candidates, President Trump, Democrats outspending the GOP, early voting, etc. We clearly see that voters who in past midterm elections would have been expected to vote Republican did not vote at the same rates as did critical Democrat coalition voters.
The bottom line is Republican candidates were not as effective getting voters who would be more likely to vote GOP to the polls.
“The GOP missed a historic opportunity,” said Bruce Blakeman, Senior Vice President and Public Policy + Issues Practice Leader at Heart+Mind Strategies. “The political environment pointed to big gains for the Republicans. But they failed to connect and motivate voters who are dissatisfied with President Biden and the Democrats’ leadership of the country.”
Perhaps the clearest example of this explanation from our data is that 2020 Biden Presidential voters showed up to vote at higher rates than Trump 2020 voters by a significant 11-point margin.
The same trend is seen with political party identification, where Democrats participated at a rate of four-points more than Republicans.
With the political parties being at parity, just a few percentage points made the difference in tipping the election.
“Wrong Track” Voters Did Not Show Up at the Polls
Another key indicator for an election is the how voters feel about the direction of the country. Most polls over the past several months have shown a large majority of voters and Americans believe the country is seriously off on the wrong track. Our survey showed just 29% of voters saying the country is heading in the right direction and 66% thinking the country is seriously off on the wrong track. This boded well for the GOP. Previous elections have shown the president’s party loses seats in midterm elections when a majority feels the country is hearing in the wrong direction.
Again, we see that in the 2022 Midterm Election those who feel the country is off on the wrong track did not vote at the same rates as those who think the country is heading in the right direction.
In addition, non-voting registered voters are even more pessimistic about the direction of the country, making them more likely to support the GOP (15% right direction, 77% wrong track). But they did not show up at the polls. This means those who are most likely to vote to punish President Biden and the Democrat Party did not show up to vote, costing the GOP critical votes.
Biden Supporters Show Up More Than His Detractors
President Biden came into this election with relatively low job approval for a sitting president. Only 43% of voters approve of his job performance, with an anemic 17% strongly approving. A majority of voters (57%) disapprove of President Biden’s job performance with 40% strongly disapproving.
For the 2022 Midterm Election those who approve of the president’s job performance voted at higher rates, an 11-point margin, than those who disapprove of President Biden’s job performance.
Turnout by Key Issues Favored Democrats
As many polls have found coming into the 2022 Midterm Election, inflation was the most important issue for voters. In our survey, 37% of voters said inflation was their most important issue in determining for whom to vote. This was followed by a candidate’s stance on abortion and the Dobbs decision at 13%. Only one other issue scored in double digits, which was jobs and the economy at 10%.
Our data shows that abortion-focused voters turned up at the polls at extremely higher rates than other issue voters. Of those who said abortion was their most important issue, 87% showed up to vote and over 80% voted for Democrat candidates.
This is compared to much lower participation of voters who would more likely align with issues that favor Republican candidates like inflation, crime, and the economy.
Those Most Hurt by Inflation Did Not Vote
Voters have been suffering with high inflation over the past year. Almost a fifth of voters (19%) say it has caused a severe hardship for their family. Another 30% say it has been a moderate hardship, and 35% a small hardship. Only 16% say it has not been any hardship at all.
But for the 2022 Midterm Election those who say they have experienced a severe hardship were less likely to vote than those who said inflation has not affected their family.
Motivating Turnout Matters: Persuade by Reason, Motivate Through Emotion
GOP candidates underperformed in this election with their natural coalition groups. They did not drive large enough margins with voters who thought the country is heading in the wrong direction, the issues Republican candidates ran on (inflation, crime, and economy), and those who disapprove of Biden’s job performance. It will be essential for the GOP to dig deeper to understand why they were unable to motivate and turnout their potential supporters.
Democrat candidates, on the other hand, had very large margins of victory with voters on their issues, i.e., abortion, health care, and the environment, and approval of President Biden.
Effective communications must clearly demonstrate the practical impact and benefit of an issue position while simultaneously tapping into the emotional payoff that directly results from that position. Republican candidates failed to connect on either level, leading to their lackluster results on election day in 2022.
Heart+Mind’s 2022 VoterView Survey was conducted using an online survey among a general population sample of 2,500 adults across the country. The survey included quotas for gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and political party and data were weighted on mid-term voter participation.