This piece was originally published on Divided We Fall, which AllSides rates as mixed. It was written by Celinda Lake, who is a Democratic strategist and President at Lake Research Partners, and John Feehery, Columnist for The Hill.
Americans Will Vote for What They Believe, Regardless of Political Party
How Will Voters React to Inflation, Abortion, and Environmental Issues?
By Celinda Lake – Democratic strategist and President at Lake Research Partners
Approaching the 2022 midterm election, voters have heard the term “unprecedented times” more times than they can count. When they head to the polls in November, voters will bring concerns about an ongoing pandemic, steadily increasing climate disasters, rapidly changing abortion policies, high inflation rates, and the continued threat of gun violence. The key for Democrats is to keep their base motivated and ensure their gain of female voters outweighs their loss of male voters. To succeed, they need to offer competitive economic solutions and win on wedge issues by calling attention to Republican attacks on our freedoms. The Democrats’ detailed platform on the bread-and-butter issues shaping this election will ultimately give them an expanded majority in the Senate and allow them to maintain their slim majority in the House of Representatives.
The Impact of Roe v. Wade
This year, candidates are most clearly distinguished by their opinions on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, access to abortion, and access to birth control. Polling and recent elections demonstrate that these are mobilizing issues and winning ones for Democrats. In Kansas, voters resoundingly rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have denied the right to an abortion by an almost 20-point-margin. Our own recent polling, which was fielded even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, found that in several states with key Senate races—Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—more voters identify as pro-choice than as Democrats. Before the June 24th decision, a majority of voters in each state reported that overturning Roe motivates them to vote in November, including 59% of voters in Arizona, 52% in Georgia, 63% in Pennsylvania, and 54% in Wisconsin. This issue also helps Democratic women candidates, who are running in record numbers this cycle.
Democrats, pro-choice voters, and younger college-educated women are strongly motivated to turn out in November in support of candidates who will protect the right to choose. In focus groups, we have seen this group concerned about the subsequent slippery slope—potential impacts on marriage equality, birth control, voting rights, and even interracial marriage. Voters know that the best way to protect these freedoms is by turning out and voting for Democrats. For the first time in decades, this issue is not nearly as motivating for Republicans and pro-life voters.
Democrats Win on Other Key Issues, Too
Climate change is an issue on which voters expect action and the majority of concerned voters again side with the Democratic platform. Polling finds that 58% of registered voters would prefer to elect a candidate who supports action on global warming, while only 17% would prefer to elect a candidate who opposes action. Younger voters are especially motivated by this issue.
Addressing the rising costs of healthcare and prescription drug prices is the Democrats’ best answer to concerns about inflation and the economy. The Senate’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act gives Democrats’ a favorable arena in which to contest this issue, especially with the inclusion of prescription drug price negotiation. This issue is also salient among the biggest bloc of swing voters: women over 50.
Voters are simultaneously aware of the recent January 6th hearings. As of July, 86% of voters recall hearing much or some about the hearings, including 83% of independents. These voters are angry about the riot’s attempt to overturn the will of the people. They connect the attack on our country and threats to our elections with Trumpist Republicans.
Prediction: States to Watch
The race for control of the Senate is closely contested and will be decided by results in eight key states: Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In four of these states, recent polling shows the Democratic incumbents in the lead. In Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s unorthodox campaign has him comfortably leading against celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. In Ohio, polls show a close race—but in a state where Trump beat Biden by eight points, Rep. Tim Ryan’s two-point lead on J.D. Vance (according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average) is a bad sign for Republicans. There are also a number of potential surprise races. In Florida and Missouri, for example, a popular woman candidate could potentially win a three-way race
Republicans Have the Upper Hand for Midterm Success
By John Feehery – Columnist for The Hill
Ms. Lake may very well be right in her assertion that Democrats will keep the House and the Senate after this November’s midterm elections. It is difficult to predict the future—anything can happen to swing the outcome in favor of Joe Biden’s team.
The Possibility of Victory for Democrats
For instance, there could be a shooting war with China. When I worked for the House Republican Leadership in 2002, we were able to maintain control of Congress despite historically tight margins. We accomplished this by (1) taking care of our legislative business and (2) swiftly and confidently prosecuting the war against terrorism—perhaps too confidently.
The economy could quickly recover, inflation could drop like a stone, the Fed could lower interest rates, and Republicans could promise that their first action would be to impeach Joe Biden. I also worked for the House Republican leadership when the party unwisely promised to impeach President Clinton just as the economy took off. Republicans only narrowly kept control of Congress in 1998 and Newt Gingrich was forced to step down, paving the way for Denny Hastert, whom I worked for, to take the reins as Speaker of the House.
The wildcard in the election, as Ms. Lake correctly points out, is the issue of abortion. Everybody predicted that eventually, the Supreme Court would overturn Roe V. Wade—but when it finally did, neither Republicans nor Democrats were prepared to seize the middle ground, where most voters live on this issue. I give the Democrats a slight edge on this particular policy fight because I do think progressives, both young and old, are singularly motivated by this issue.
Republicans Address Key Democratic Failures
However, I am skeptical that abortion will lead the Democrats to victory. There are too many things that have gone wrong under the leadership of Joe Biden.
Democrats may choose to ignore it, but the border crisis is real. It is seriously impacting voters, especially in South Texas. They are concerned not only with the flood of illegal immigrants, but also the flood of deadly fentanyl that is destroying the lives of young people throughout the country. Moreover, what Ms. Lake refers to as gun violence is actually plain old crime that has been exacerbated by the progressive call to defund the police. Voters won’t forget that it was liberals who voted for prosecutors who refused to prosecute criminals—these voters don’t trust Democrats with power.
The greatest concern for most voters, though, is inflation. Nobody—and that includes Bernie Sanders—believes that the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce inflation. On top of that, most voters don’t see anything in this legislation that will help them in their daily lives. The President’s ridiculous cash give away to college students will only make inflation worse and the voters will notice.
The idea that climate change is a priority for most voters is inaccurate. It routinely ranks at the bottom of the priority list for the bulk of voters, who are struggling with high electricity bills and outrageous gas prices. When Joe Biden says “Let them buy electric cars,” he sounds more like Marie Antoinette and less like Ronald Reagan.
Prediction: The GOP’s Advantage
History is an uncertain window into the future, and as Ms. Lake points out, we live in unprecedented times. But consider the sum of the factors: the president’s bad poll numbers, high inflation rates, and gas prices, and growing anxiety that voters’ children will inherit a mess of a country. Taken together, one would have to agree that the GOP has the upper hand as we approach these elections. I predict Republicans will win approximately the historic average of 25 seats in the House, and I believe that they will win the Senate, too. Democrats have been spending campaign money like drunken sailors while Republicans have husbanded their resources until after Labor Day. I am convinced that all the races Ms. Lake cites will break for the Republicans once the candidates begin campaigning in earnest. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
Prediction: The Issue of Abortion Will Take Precedence for Voters
By Celinda Lake – Democratic strategist and President at Lake Research Partners
Mr. Feehery’s thoughtful response makes an excellent point when he says that we do not know what could occur prior to November. But his arguments in response to my piece read more as “why Republicans will vote for Republicans” rather than an argument for why the Republicans will win.
Inflation is a top concern among voters, but this issue is turning in the right direction. Gas prices have already begun to come down, and we are seeing similar trends with housing and a range of products, from used cars to eggs. Biden’s job approval rating is rising, while prices fall. This issue does not present a clear contrast between parties in the same way other issues do.
Even if voters do disapprove of how Biden has handled immigration, this is only a voting issue among Republicans. Citing South Texas as a place where immigration may hurt the Democrats is a misdirect—forecasters predict that there is only one South Texas house seat that could plausibly flip to the GOP.
Polls Show That Democrats Are On The Rise
Polling indicates that Biden’s student loan forgiveness and the Inflation Reduction Act are both popular. This is a targeted issue, and along with the Democrats’ position on Roe v. Wade and climate change, it will help to motivate young people and Blue Wave Democrats. Moreover, it is the right thing to do for our country’s future. It not only covers four-year college loans but also loans for community college and job training.
Betting the election on Biden’s favorability ratings isn’t wise—polls show that voters’ house ballot is doing better than the president’s approval rating. Even if his approval rating is in the low 40’s, Democrats can do well. On the other hand, former President Trump, who remains the head of the Republican party, has numbers that are plummeting.
It is misleading to link the calls to defund the police to most of the Democrats running for office. It is unlikely that policing and violence—which many voters see as a local issue—are going to hurt Democrats at the Federal level. In special elections in Nebraska, Minnesota, and New York, and the Washington open primaries, the Democrats have outperformed their partisan lean. All of these places have nearby cities that had tumultuous demonstrations in 2020, many that followed with highly publicized police reforms.
The Big Issue In November
The mandated abortion ban, with no exceptions and prohibiting forms of birth control, is beyond the mainstream. Voters do not want their freedoms taken away and they will remember how candidates handled the issue come November. The fact is, all the evidence points to an improving environment for Democrats, rooted in the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.
Our own focus groups, voting registration trends, and recent special elections show that voters are angry about losing freedoms, and they blame Republicans. Americans know that the best way to fight back is at the polls this November.
Prediction: Inflation and the Economy Will Take Precedence for Voters
By John Feehery – Columnist for The Hill
Ms. Lake and I disagree on what will motivate voters. We are more familiar with what motivates our own voters than what motivates the voters of the other side. Abortion is not the top issue for most Republicans. There are Republicans who vote only on the life issue and they are overwhelmingly pro-life and pro-Dobbs decision. In the polls, the economy still ranks at the top of the list for the overwhelming number of voters. Rising inflation, coupled with rising interest rates, is increasing the misery index.
Many Republican candidates are running on the crime issue. It is a winning strategy because Democrats own the “defund the police” label, whether Ms. Lake likes it or not. Out-of-control crime is not just a local issue, and Americans will vote for whatever candidates promise to keep them safe, including at the Federal level.
It is true that voters are concerned about losing freedoms, but that comes from government overreach. What the voters typically want in a midterm election is a check on the party in power. This has been the case since 1994, with 2002 being the only exception. I predict that voters will give the opposition party control of the Congress in November with the hope that policymakers will find a way to achieve a middle ground.