Economic issuesU.S. political pundits tend to attribute particular importance to the current state of they country's economy before elections given that voters tend to punish sitting presidents for high levels of unemployment and inflation. The economic situation of the country was especially pertinent in 2022 given the unprecedented levels of inflation experienced in the Untied States and around the world.
A perfect inflationary storm had gathered thanks to a number of interrelated factors particularly around Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. inflation reached unprecedented levels and was hovering at and over eight percent in the months leading up to the midterm election. As a nation heavily dependent on cars, voters are also distinctly sensitive to spikes in the price of gasoline, especially at a time when workers are seeing a general decrease in their purchasing power and real wages. At the end of September 2022, nearly half of Americans described the state of the U.S. economy as poor.
AbortionAnother hot topic in the U.S. in 2022 was abortion rights. In June 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturned its ruling on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 rulings that protected the right to terminate a pregnancy. Roe was struck down in the ruling Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, returning the power to make decisions on abortion to individual states.
Not only has the SCOTUS decision been seen as widely unpopular, but it is also estimated to deprive 36 million women of access to abortion health services. The Dobbs decision was the first time in modern America that its citizens experienced a right taken away from them, and was sure to have electoral implications. There was a huge spike in new voter registrations in the days after the decision and was ultimately a top motivator for Democratic voters in particular. Perhaps Republicans should have foreseen the importance of this issue for voters given a poll from July 2022, that found 36 percent of people would be more likely to vote in light of the ruling.
Political division and trustThe abortion debate in the U.S. has historically fallen along party lines and has been used as a tool to further exacerbate an already divided country. Both parties have vastly different priorities when it comes to the importance of different issues, such as civil rights, healthcare, the climate, and government spending. Democrats tend to rank social issues more highly, while Republicans tend to place more importance on economic issues.
Political divisiveness has also compounded wider institutional distrust across all ideological fronts. Approval for institutions such as Congress and the Supreme Court reached new lows in 2022. Moreover, there is a tendency for Republican voters to be more distrustful of government agencies when compared with Democrats. This distrust and division came to a head on January 6th, 2021. A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building while Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 election, and five people died as a result. There is notable disagreement between both sides as to whether or not the attack should be considered a threat to democracy, suggesting the two parties are divided over a fundamental ideal upon which their country was founded. In the final days of the Democratic campaign for the midterms, President Biden stated that democracy was on the ballot.
OutcomesWhile the Republicans won enough seats to take over control of the House of Representatives, the forecasted red wave never materialized. Once all the votes were counted the Republicans majority was only by a handful of seats. A slim margin may result in increased power for the extreme right of the party and could ultimately be problematic for the new House majority leader given the national rebuke of far-right Trumpism.
Democrats have maintained control of the Senate thanks to a crucial pick-up in Pennsylvania. Even if Republicans take control of the House, a Democratically controlled Senate can reject legislation sent over by the House making it more difficult for Republicans to enact their agenda. Additionally, Senate control means that President Biden can fill open judicial seats at district, circuit, and high court levels.
Young voters have been heralded by the Democratic party for turning out in record numbers to vote for Democratic candidates. Young voters from ethnic minority backgrounds have played a particularly key roll in combatting the red wave for Democrats.