Nov 18, 2022

It's abortion, stupid.

The current state of the U.S. House race, according to a map from Cook Political Report.
The current state of the U.S. House race, according to a map from Cook Political Report. 

There are five big theories on why the election went the way it did.

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Let's start with a baseline understanding: What happened last week was not normal.

We touched on it in all of our election coverage, but Democrats performed historically well. It was the best midterm showing for a party that controlled the White House in 20 years, and one of the best we've seen in the last 100 years.

More interesting, though, is why Democrats performed better than we expected, and why Republicans under-performed. After all, the fundamentals seemed to be going one way: Biden is unpopular, inflation is raging, a major war is happening in Europe, dissatisfaction with the country is very high, violent crime is up, and almost every first-term president loses a lot of political power in Congress following midterms.

As Alex Shephard put it before the election: "The truth is that midterms are nearly as predictable as death and taxes: The party that controls the White House always loses and often badly at that."

But instead, Democrats secured their Senate majority, are favorites to pick up a Senate seat, and appear to have just barely lost control of the House — losing somewhere between six and ten seats, rather than the thirty, forty, or even sixty seats that were predicted.

Since the election, I've seen (roughly) five popular theories attempt to explain these surprise results: Candidate quality, inaccurate polls, concerns over democracy, the youth vote actually turning out, and abortion rights.

Below, I'm going to summarize each of them, with bits of other people's arguments, to give you an idea of the leading theories.

Obviously, the headline of this newsletter gives away my position. So at the end, I’ll make the case for why I think abortion rights was the primary driver of these results, and also try to rebut some of the following arguments.

1) Candidates matter.

One prominent theory is that candidates matter. This idea is best explained by noting that Republicans had a generic ballot advantage on Democrats going into the election, appear poised to win a popular vote majority in the House races, but will ultimately do much worse than expected across the country.