Why Republicans Are Not Likely to Lose Any Senate Seats

While we don’t know what the outcome of this year’s elections will be, history shows that Johnson is likely to win and Republicans will not lose any of their seats to Democrats.

Why? Because opposition parties rarely lose Senate seats in the midterms when those states sided with them in previous presidential elections.

Let’s start with Wisconsin. President Joe Biden won it in 2020, but by only 0.6 percentage points. He won the national level by 4.5 points. In other words, the state voted for the right to the nation by about 4 points.
The same was true in 2016, when Wisconsin voted more Republican than the entire country. A slightly higher weighting of recent polls (i.e. 75% in 2020 and 25% in 2016) shows that Wisconsin is 3.5 points more Republican than the country at the presidential level.
Since 1982, incumbent senators from opposition parties in states such as Wisconsin (i.e. leaning toward the opposition in the last two presidential elections) have won 86 out of 87 midterm elections.

The fact that opposition party functionaries like Johnson are so successful should not come as a surprise. In the medium term there is usually some sort of backlash against the party of the incumbent president. If a member of an opposition party represents a state that is already less favorable to the president’s party than the nation, one would expect senators from an opposition party to do well in the midterm.
Indeed, when an opposition party senator (Republican Loch Faircloth lost to Democrat John Edwards in 1998) the president’s reaction against the party was muted. Faircloth’s loss came in a year in which President Democrat Bill Clinton had an approval rating in the 60s.

Currently, Biden’s approval rating averages around 42% to 43%. It does not seem, at this point, that Biden will be popular enough for his party this election cycle to overcome the traditional odds against the White House party.

Expanding this a bit, every single Republican senator running in 2022 is from a state that has leaned more Republican than the entire country in the last two presidential elections. This is in large part because the 2016 election (i.e. when these senators were last elected) was the only time in the last century that each state with a Senate election voted for the same party in the Senate and presidential races.

The chances of any of these Republican senators losing are slim, if history is any guide. In fact, the relationship between a state’s president’s leanings and his or her vote in Senate elections has strengthened in recent years. In 2020, it was higher than +0.9 (on a scale of -1 to +1).

(The growing relationship between how a party votes in the Senate and presidential elections helps explain why many Democratic incumbent senators lost in 2018. Although they were members of the opposition party with Republican Donald Trump as president , but all the losers were senators from states that bow down to Republicans at the presidential level.)

Democrats have the best chance of taking the seat occupied by Republicans, where Republicans are retiring. There are five of those seats, notably in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. All three voted more Republicans than the nation in the past few presidential elections, but all have elected at least one Democrat to major statewide office in the past four years.

Yet, here too, the math is not in favor of the Democrats. Since 1982, there have been 35 midterm Senate elections in states that have been skewed toward the opposition in previous presidential elections and where an elected office bearer was not a qualified candidate by the time of the election. The opposition party won 32 out of 35.

In the three elections in which the opposition party lost, one had two things going for it: either the president had an approval rating in his 60s (2002 in Minnesota) or the president’s party had a popular governor for a Senate seat. was running (Joe Manchin of West Virginia) in 2010). In 1998 and in the case of Indiana, Democrat Ivan Beh was a popular former governor and running with a popular Democratic president.

This year, the president doesn’t think he’ll be popular. Nor do the Democrats have anyone running for any of these seats, which has anything close to the history that Manchin won in the dark red state.

Of course, there will probably be some shocking results this year. History doesn’t last forever. But if it does, Democrats are less likely to take seats in the Senate.


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