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Opinion: What Democrats can learn from the 2022 midterms

The 2022 midterm elections revealed many critical lessons that the Democratic Party must take into account for the future.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/navneethmurali1/" target="_self">Navneeth Murali</a>

Navneeth Murali

December 19, 2022
The GOP was supposed to be a shoo-in for control of the House this November. Echoing an October Gallup poll that showed an abysmal 17% satisfaction rate with our domestic affairs, Biden’s approval rating was underground by double digits as inflation and crime were rampant. It would be a bloodbath,” Forbes said. A red tsunami,” predicted pundits and politicians alike. An election week Emerson College poll put Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt 5 points ahead of the incumbent Catherine Cortez-Masto — above the margin of error. John Fetterman, who was leading his opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, by double digits less than two months ago, saw his lead evaporate into thin air after a debilitating stroke and a lackluster debate performance. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight even declared that Dr. Oz was slightly favored to win the high-stakes race.  

That week, Laxalt lost his race by almost one point, a far call from the lead the polls predicted just days ago. Fetterman won his race by almost five points. Why were the polls so wrong? Pundits have painted this year’s midterms as a humiliating defeat for the GOP amidst widespread talk of a red wave. Statistically speaking, this is true — Democrats won the Senate and fended off significantly more seats than the polls predicted — but this argument lacks nuance. Less discussed in the media are the GOP’s stunning victories in statewide races in Florida as well as its strong showings in New York, which call this judgment into question. 

As recently as two years ago, Florida was seen as a quintessential swing state. This year, Gov. Ron DeSantis won his race by nearly 20 points. Sen. Marco Rubio won his race by upwards of 16 points. In a state that Joe Biden lost by around just 3 points in 2020 and Hillary Clinton lost by just over one point, this seems nearly unthinkable. In an interview with TIME, Christian Ziegler, a leader in the Republican Party of Florida, reveals that the nature of Florida’s electorate is fundamentally different than it was in 2020.  With culture wars taking center stage in political discourse, the pandemic, Ziegler argues, marked a sharp turning point, with new residents beginning to credit Gov. DeSantis’ COVID leadership and “hardline” anti-lockdown and anti-mandate stances as major contributors to their move to Florida. Showcasing his anti-Fauci rhetoric, DeSantis electrified the Republican base with his willingness to take on the establishment, politicians and otherwise. 

The Office of the Florida Secretary of State reported that the GOP saw nearly half a million new voters in their ranks over the last three years, with the Democrats actually losing registered voters. Why? A major contributor could be the GOP’s successful efforts to gain ground with Hispanic voters, a historically Democrat-leaning voting bloc. A WSJ poll this month showed a significant improvement for the party, with Democrats leading a sample of Hispanic voters by just 5% — down from the 11% lead they had in an August poll and the 28% edge they favored President Biden by in 2022. 

The Democrats may have been able to quash fears of a midterms wipeout this year, fueled by the harsh blowback from the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that significantly ramped up Gen Z voter turnout, but concerns remain for their 2024 prospects. The GOP has found itself a potential leader in Governor DeSantis, whose shrewd political calculations and handling of the pandemic make him one of America’s most popular governors, and may hand him the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The Democrats, led by a bumbling octogenarian, are a far cry from this. Economic doldrums, a faltering president, and historically divisive culture wars make for tenuous times for America. The Democrats have a lot of work to do if they want a fighting chance at holding the presidency two years from now.

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