The pattern of states with competitive Senate elections this fall may be the silver lining for Democrats in an otherwise gloomy electoral landscape.
Even though Joe Biden won most of these states by a razor-thin margin in 2020, all of the contested Senate races will take place in those states.
In an era where both parties are struggling to win Senate races in areas that typically vote the other way for president, that geography could be a crucial boost for Democrats. There are now just three seats in the Senate from the 25 states that voted against their presidential nominees in the 2020 election held by each party.
Only President Joe Biden will be on the ballot in autumn, leaving the battleground centered on territory that Trump won in 2020 in the hands of his three Democratic senators.
However, Biden’s dwindling job approval numbers could scupper that benefit. In states where the president’s approval rating is low, neither party has won 21st-century Senate campaigns with incumbents or for open seats.
Since Biden’s dismal poll numbers have taken a toll on Democrats, Republicans are sure that the same will happen to them in critical states.
Republican consultant John Brabender predicts that Biden’s popularity will have a significant impact on the 2022 elections.
If Biden has a higher chance of recovering by November in areas where he won, and where more voters have had a positive image of him in the past, then this is a critical matter for Democrats. Or, if that fails, whether Democratic Senate candidates in these states that rejected Trump in 2020 (and in some instances 2016, as well) can survive even low numbers for Biden by reminding voters what they dislike about the GOP options.
A Democratic pollster who worked for President Biden during the campaign says, “It’s not just a referendum on Biden,” “In Senate races, you have the resources to make it a real choice, it doesn’t have to be a derivative choice of an affirmation of the president or not.”
When it comes to the Democrats’ prospects of regaining control of the Senate, they will hinge on whether or not she is correct.
One of the most important phenomena in current American politics is the increasing alignment of Senate results with presidential results in the same state. This is a significant departure from the politics of the second half of the 20th century.
Ticket-splitting in Senate elections enjoyed a golden age in the decades following World War II. In states that voted for Republican Presidents Richard Nixon in 1968 and Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in the 1980s, Republicans held only about half of the Senate seats.
There was a wide gap between presidential and Senate results in several states since many people in that era voted for the president of one party and for the senator of another party.
While the results of House races in these years were heavily affected by the same dynamic, According to Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz’s analysis of data from the American National Election Studies at the University of Michigan, one-fourth of voters supported Senate candidates of one party and presidential nominees of the other in the 1970s and nearly that many again in the 1980s.
While the phenomenon was most pronounced in the South during those years, it was not limited to that region.
In recent years, however, as American politics have become increasingly polarised, such split-ticket voting has decreased dramatically. Voting for Senate and House races have become less about choosing between two persons and more about picking a party to control Congress, a decision that increasingly hinged on people’s views of the president and his party.
According to Abramowitz’s estimations, one in six people in the 1990s split their ballots between the presidential and Senate campaigns. However, the percentage of split-ticket voters has declined even further during presidential elections in this century, frequently dropping to less than 10% of the total population.
Because fewer people divide their ballots, fewer senators are elected by each party in states that generally vote the other way in presidential elections, thereby electing fewer senators on the opposite side of the aisle.
More than four-fifths of the seats in the Senate were held by Democrats in the states that President Obama had won twice, while Republicans held more than three-quarters of the seats in the states that had rejected him twice.
Trump-friendly states currently hold 94 percent of the seats in the House, compared to 76 percent for Democrats in the same states in 2016.
To put it another way, they control 47 Senate seats out of the 50 available in the 25 states he won in 2020 by voting for him again in 2016. Democrats currently have 98 percent of the Senate’s seats, save for the one held by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who lost both of her elections in the 20 states.
After voting for Trump in 2016, the remaining five states — formerly Trump strongholds — switched to Biden in 2020. In the Senate, Democrats currently possess eight of the ten seats they had previously held.
The figures in the following columns could change after the upcoming elections:
Republicans are targeting three Democratic senators in states that voted against Trump twice. In Nevada, their greatest bet is against Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, but Republicans feel they can take on New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and possibly Colorado’s Michael Bennet if the red wave is strong enough. Since the only Republican senator in the 20 states that voted against Trump twice (Collins) won re-election in 2020, this column is completely empty for the Democrats in 2018.
Democratic senators Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia will not face reelection this year in the states Trump won twice. In this political climate, everyone might have faced difficult odds: According to recent calculations by political analyst Amy Walter, in the four midterm elections since 2006, the party in power has lost 12 of the 14 Senate seats it was defending in states that went against the president in the previous election.
Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to capitalize on Trump’s victory in Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. In Ohio (Rep. Tim Ryan) and Florida (Rep. Val Demings), Democrats have coalesced around respectable candidates, while Democrats in North Carolina have a clear favorite (former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley).
All of those states have drifted away from the Democrats during Trump’s presidency, and each will be difficult to win in a midterm election when the national tide is moving further toward Republican Party. Democrats, according to Brabender, are more concerned about defending their own incumbents than they are about taking on such difficult terrain.
Only Michigan is not holding a senate election this year among the states that switched from Trump to Biden in 2020. The remaining four senators are expected to determine the Senate’s leadership. They are divided in an unusual symmetry: Dems in the Rust Belt want to fill Pat Toomey’s seat in Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson’s in Wisconsin, both of whom are retiring.
After winning special elections to fill vacant terms in 2020, Democrats Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia are both running for full six-year terms as Republicans in the Sun Belt.
For Democrats, This Is a Chilling Precedent
According to this century’s midterm elections, Biden’s approval rating will cast a large shadow on all three of these categories. According to exit surveys done by Edison Research for a consortium of media organizations, Republicans lost all 10 of the 2018 Senate races in areas where Trump’s popularity rating was at or below 48%.
Democrats also suffered defeats in the 2014 midterm elections in states where Obama’s support ratings were as low as 42%, as reported by exit surveys. As in 2008, Democrats lost 13 of the 15 races in which Obama had a 47% approval rating or worse in 2010.
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19 of the 20 Senate contests in states where President George W. Bush’s job approval rating was at or below 45% were lost by Republicans in 2006.
For Democrats, this sets a dangerous precedent, as Biden’s popularity ratings are underperforming in several crucial states on the Senate map. In recent polls, he has a 43% approval rating in Wisconsin, 35% in Georgia, 35% in New Hampshire, and 38% in Florida.
Only three out of ten people in a recent Pennsylvania poll said his performance was excellent or good on a different criterion.
According to Mike Noble, a former Republican consultant who is now polling for nonpartisan clients in Arizona, Biden’s numbers have eroded similarly since he was disillusioned by the messy exit from Afghanistan in the summer last year. In Noble’s words, “We haven’t seen him recover ever since that first domino in Afghanistan,”
It raises two fundamental questions: what happened in Biden’s past, and what is going on now? Question one: Will Trump’s approval rating rises faster in states he won than in states he lost because of more voters’ prior good impressions of him?
When it comes to recovering in places where you’ve been elected and liked, Democratic pollster Lake thinks it’s “much” simpler. “it is very, very hard in the first off-year election to create something from scratch.” in states where a president lost, she said.
It’s easier for voters to be swayed by changes in circumstances, such as Biden’s leadership in coordinating the Western reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in states where he won, she says. As far as I know, “‘Where were you?’ is a simpler question for voters to ask. ‘This is the Biden for whom I cast my ballot, this is the Biden for whom I was searching.'”
As seen above, Biden’s approval rating has fallen in both states he won and those he lost.
While Republican pollster Whit Ayres believes “It’s worse in the states that he lost because they are predisposed to think negatively of him, but you don’t have the kind of collapse he’s had … without it being across the board,”
Nevertheless, public opinion polls show that displeasure with Biden may not be as strong and therefore as immovable in states where he won. This dynamic is well-captured in the most recent Franklin & Marshall College poll conducted in Pennsylvania. 30% of those surveyed said that Biden’s performance was outstanding or good, while 51% said it was terrible. In contrast, 18% of those polled said his performance was simply “fair.”
More than four out of five people gave Biden an “equivocal” “fair” rating, voted for him in 2020, according to the director of the college’s Center for Opinion Research.
The President may give Democrats a significant lift in Pennsylvania if he can convince those former voters who were uncertain about him to change their minds and vote Democratic in November. Nearly all of those who gave him outstanding or high scores in the poll indicated they planned to do so.
Yost predicted that he would fail to win over Trump supporters. As a candidate, he is certain that he can attract moderate and independent voters back to his side by appealing to his core supporters.
When it comes to swing voters like those in Pennsylvania, Ayres doubts that Biden will be able to win back too many of them.
His reputation for foreign policy expertise may have been a mirage, says Ayres, who believes that he won over many independents because of his promise to serve as a centrist and competent president.
“He got a significant share of independents who believed that he was going to be a centrist, competent president and he’s done a pretty good job of blowing up both of those characteristics by continually veering to the left on policy and demonstrating with the withdrawal from Afghanistan that his reputation for foreign policy expertise may have been a mirage,” says Ayres.
If he continues along the current path, “People who believed that you ran one way and then governed another are not going to be really open to coming back as long as he continues to pursue the current course.”
Involving Oneself on Both Sides
It’s important to ask how independent any of the Democratic Senate candidates can really be from President Biden’s campaign. However, there are some notable outliers, such as Collins’ victory in 2020 in a state that Biden easily won or the 2018 triumphs of Democratic Sens. Manchin, Tester, and Brown in areas where Trump received an exit poll popularity rating of over 50 percent.
According to pollster Andrew Baumann, Democratic Senate candidates need to focus on “both sides” of their contests to avoid being dragged down by the public opinion of Joe Biden.
“You need to lift up the Democratic candidate and show some separation,” he says, “and you need to just make it clear that even if these voters are not happy with Biden that the Republican alternative here is unacceptable.”
Some Democratic senators have stronger polling numbers than President Joe Biden in their home states. As an example, a January Quinnipiac survey conducted in Georgia found that while President Obama’s popularity rating there was 11 points higher than Warnock’s, independents gave him a 15-point lead.
The second side of Baumann’s equation maybe even more critical for Democrats in most of these races: discrediting the Republican option. Only Marco Rubio and Marco Johnson, two Republican incumbents, are on the ballot in races that are being contested by both parties. There is a strong majority of Wisconsin voters who disapprove of Johnson’s performance, according to recent polls.
According to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein, the GOP is expected to put forward and he states, “forward flawed candidates who are stuck in vicious expensive primaries that will drain their resources and leave their eventual nominee badly out of step with the voters that decide the general election in their states”.
The Republican strategist Brabender thinks that even in states that voted against Trump in 2020, Democrats’ goal of disqualifying Republican nominees by tying them to Trump will not be as powerful as they anticipate.
It’s possible that Trump’s lack of visibility is to blame, he says. Trump’s negative connotation isn’t as strong as it once was because they don’t see Biden as an improvement, says Brabender.
If Republicans emerge from Senate primaries in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania damaged or positioned too far to the right (a real risk for the GOP), they may have a difficult time consolidating the disenchanted with Biden voters.
The majority of political analysts believe that the Democrats have a greater chance of keeping the Senate in November than the House because of all of these variables. Biden’s chances will remain bleak unless his popularity skyrockets before the autumn.
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