Midterm Elections – How Should a Democratic Campaign Plan?
As you plan for midterm elections, especially if you’re progressive democrat, you may not want to leave your house. With all the things going on in the country it may seem like the midterm elections are a forgone conclusion and not in a good way. Historical trends come to a similar conclusion. In this post we will detail the historical trends of midterms, talk about contributing factors, and what Democrats and progressives can do to make a difference in election outcomes this year.
What is the midterm elections trend? The midterm elections trend is that the party in power loses on average 30 seats or more in the house in the midterm election. The exceptions to this trend are rare, and usually exacerbated in times of a difficult economy, or a president with a low approval rating.
Why does the party in power usually lose in the midterm? There are a lot of theories around why there are losses in midterms. I attribute it usually to buyer’s remorse. Often voters who were on the fence or who voted the other way in the election continue to either be upset about the outcome, or rethink how the party is doing and are dissatisfied on the results they’re immediately seeing.
If we lose the house will we lose the senate? We do not always lose Senate races. We have great candidates in U.S. Senate races this year, but they are in challenging swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and Nevada. This year the Senate seats we are defending or trying to get are challenging. As a result of the losses in the house, turnout in house races can and will likely be a contributing factor to losing or gaining U.S. Senate seats.
What about state and local races?
When you lose at the top of the ticket that trend usually continues. This year we have seen predictions of state legislative losses of over 388 seats.
What are contributing factors to midterm elections? There is not just one thing that causes a loss in midterms. Factors include buyer’s remorse, bad house maps, the Senate map, the Supreme Court, changes in voting rules, the economy, inflation, demographic trends, and other elections on the ballot. Bottomline, there are lots of factors that contribute to the midterms and there will be regional and local differences depending on these factors.
Low presidential approval- There has been a correlation in past midterm elections with presidential approval and losses – basically the lower the approval rating, the worse the losses.
Low party approval- The rating of the party in power has also had correlation with past midterm election losses.
House maps- Maps for Democrats have gotten worse, not better. Most state legislators are in Republican control and the maps have become harder for us to win.
Senate make up- Democrats barely control the Senate, and have had division in our own party- as we said earlier we have a ton of close races across the board.
The supreme court- The leaking of the opinion on Roe v Wade and the extreme likelihood that the court will overturn Roe may help some Democrats in specific districts and really will depend on state and regions. But this is not clear, and in many places the court is likely to galvanize conservatives in a major way as well.
Change in voting rules- Post 2020 elections, Republican controlled state legislatures and governors have made it harder to vote. State laws passed have included making voting absentee harder, decreasing early vote locations, and even making it illegal to give water to people waiting in line.
The economy- The economy has not recovered from the pandemic and depending on where you live this may have a different effect in your region staple locality than in others.
Inflation- Gas prices and the prices of food are on a multi-decade high, and historically we have seen more losses in races of the opposite party when there is large scale inflation.
Demographic trend? We have continued to lose voters to Republicans, specifically non college white voters and compounded with economic issues, this will likely hurt Democrats in the midterm elections.
Other races and issues on the ballot- Depending on what is on the ballot in your state or locality, turn out may differ. Make sure you are looking at the full ballot when you are thinking about strategy for turnout in your campaign.
When midterm election history has you down, what can you do? I guess if you are now reading this blog post you will come to the conclusion that this election will be extremely hard and expensive. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take action. Races in midterms are extremely close, so turnout and engagement will matter a great deal. This means building and planning now.
Increase outreach- If you are in a race where it is possible to do door-to-door canvassing, you should be doing it now.
Increase your universe- Do not assume that people will automatically be with you, turn out, and vote for you. Also do not assume that the voters who voted against you are entirely clear. Use research to help you understand universes and don’t be stingy.
Under targeting and decreasing communication is a factor in voter drop off and could be a factor in midterm elections. You need to make sure that you are not cutting out audiences who need to hear your message, both from a base, as well as a persuasion audience. Deciding that folks you consider democratic base voters don’t need communications could be a costly mistake.
Raise money- Inflation, supply chain issues, and larger audiences will result in expensive races- make sure you are raising money accordingly. We have seen spending on elections to increase between 10 and 20 percent per cycle – we should assume higher spending due to competitive races and cost increases.
Engage- Engage with your audience as early as possible – Use all communications means possible in a strategic way. It has become harder and harder to reach people and it will be harder to reach people through late communication. You need to start earlier and continue to communicate throughout multiple ways.
Create a contrast- You need to make sure that your contrast is as clear as possible. This is not necessarily a negative campaign, but there are differences between candidates. No matter the election, a real contrast is key.
The supply chain will be a factor- Across all mediums including television, digital, mail, phones, and canvassing. Issues relating to the supply chain economy will affect campaigns planning and strong execution will make a difference.
Have a clear message, do not assume that voters have an understanding or a reason of why they should turn out. You need to make sure your message is clear. This is a fundamental problem in campaigns in general. Remember, an issue is not a message and do not get these things mixed up.
Have questions about midterm elections? Drop us a note.
Midterms and presidential approval
Inflation and midterms
State legislative losses