No, There Wasn't a Red Wave in 2022
The performance of the Democratic Party in 2022 was remarkable, historic and spells trouble for the GOP in this year and next
Friends, I’ve gotten requests to address some recently published stories and analyses that argue that 2022 was a good election for, um, Republicans, and not Democrats. So here is a quick take, with more to come next week.
Many of these analyses make the same mistake commentators made last year in believing there was a single nationalized election that leaned right, a “red wave” as many called it. The national results from 2022 are particularly skewed rightward because of our poor performance in the 4 biggest states - CA, FL, NY, TX. The problem with this red wavy analysis is that there wasn’t a single nationalized election, there were two elections - a bluer election inside the battleground, a redder one outside. Rs did well outside the battleground states, but inside the battleground, Democrats overperformed their 2020 results, sometimes by a lot. Any analysis that doesn’t dive into this “two elections” construct obscures the most important thing that happened in the election - that in the states which determine the Presidential election, in what was supposed to be a bad year for Democrats, Democrats kicked ass and in some cases even over performed their 2020 numbers. In my Get to 55 memo below I dive into all this data a bit more, but a few topline reminders about what happened in 2022, and if interested review my post-election memo and my in-depth review of why the “red wave” never came:
Democrats picked up 3 governorships, 4 state legislative chambers, a single US Senate seat and had the best midterm showing by a party in power since 1934. Almost every serious analysis of 2022 understood the election to be one of Dem overperformance, Rs underperformance. The epic dysfunction we are seeing in the GOP-led House is due to our strong performance in 2022 which denied McCarthy ideological control of the House.
We outperformed 2020 in AZ, CO, GA, MI, MN, NH, PA. We got to 59% in CO, 57% in PA, 55% in MI, 54% in NH. We did better in the early vote then we did in 2018 or 2020. Remarkable, historic stuff (much of this is due to our muscular grassroots and all the work you did and the money you gave)
The 2022 overperformance in key battlegrounds has carried over to this year, as we’ve had important wins in CO, FL, PA, WI. The story of 2023 so far is the story of 2022 - strong Dem overperformance, repeated GOP disappointments. We will see if we can keep up the mo’ in Ohio and Virginia.
Our performance in the Southwest - AZ, CO, NM, NV - in the last few elections has been the best since the 1940s. Biden was the first Dem to win these 4 states since FDR in 1940. In 2004 these 4 states all went for Bush, had 5 Republican Senators and a majority of Republican house Members. Today there are no GOP Senators in these 4 states, Dems hold a majority of the House seats and our showing in Arizona this past cycle was our best in decades.
That we did less well in places where we did not run our big campaigns is why I have argued we need to get louder, and become info warriors. The right still has a loudness advantage over us, one we must close in months ahead. We have to keep doing our great campaign work AND we need to be far more aggressive in trying to contest their advantage in our daily discourse. If we can make strides here we are far more likely to have the election we want to have next year, Get to 55.
I will review all this data and analysis in my two upcoming, live political briefings. Be sure to RSVP if you haven’t. All of this together is why as we head into 2024 I much would rather be us than them. MAGA has failed in the battlegrounds in the last 3 elections and will again in 2024; the right’s abortion extremism has produced a powerful new issue pushing them even further away from the electorate; Joe Biden has been a good President and will have a powerful case for re-election.
Keep working hard all - Simon
Memo: Get to 55, Expanding Our Coalition, The Youth Opportunity
Dems have learned how to get to 51% in national elections. Can we get to 55% in 2024 and beyond?
One of the projects I’m planning to work on over the next few years a group of us are calling “Get to 55.” The idea is to create a big conversation in Democratic and pro-democracy circles about how to grow the current Democratic coalition from Biden’s 51.4% in 2020 to 55% in 2024 and keep it there for a while. It may be the only way we’re going to get the Republicans to abandon MAGA and become a more traditional center-right party. Getting to 55% will be good for Democrats of course, but it will also be good for the country and the long-term future of the Republican Party itself. I spent some time talking about this idea in my recent interview with Ron Brownstein in the Atlantic (and in a new short video).
My working premise is that there are at least four groups we should be looking at to expand our coalition in the short term – under 45-year-old voters, Hispanics, Never-MAGA Republicans and those whose political views have or can be changed due to Republican extremism on abortion (not just women but men who run from the GOP due to this too). There is obviously significant overlap within these groups, but my hope is that we work together to better understand the opportunities for expansion and develop strategies to grow our vote in each. Others will argue we have to add AAPI voters to that list, African-American voters in Southern red states or voters in small towns or rural communities. Very open to tht. All ideas for expansion should be on the table now.
Consider the math here. If we start with Biden at 51% and gain a single point nationally with each of these groups in the next two years, we hit 55% (note the average Presidential vote over the past 4 elections is 50.9% D - 46.5% R). If we can do this in 2024, we crush MAGA, again, and will likely keep the Senate and flip the House. It would be the fourth bad election in a row for MAGA, and will again give Democrats control of Washington to move our agenda forward.
Let’s look at how close to 55% we got in some of the most important battlegrounds in the country last year:
CO Gov 59%, CO Sen 55%
PA Gov 57%, PA Sen 51%
MI Gov 55%
NH Sen 54%
NM Gov 52%
GA Sen 51.4%
AZ Sen 51.5%, AZ Gov 50.3%
WI Gov 51.2%
NV Sen 48.8%
So, getting to 55% is hard, yes, but not impossible. We got there in some of the most important battleground states in an off year election when we were told a red wave was going to wash over the land.
We kick off this thought exercise with some data about the group who probably provides us the biggest opportunity, under 45-year-old voters. For this analysis we collaborated with our friends Mike Hais and Morley Winograd, who’ve been researching and writing about Millennial voters for almost 20 years. Joined by their colleague Doug Ross, they’ve updated their historical analysis to add a focus on the generation after Millennials, who they call Plurals (others call GenZ). Millennials are currently 26-41 years old, Plurals 10-26.
Here’s something they put together from Pew data and census projections:
2020 Pres Millennial/Plurals 30% of all voters 51%-47% Dem +4
If we were to increase these two generational cohorts so they voted at the same percentage of the population in 2020, 40%, we end up with a 4 point national vote gain:
2020 Pres Millennials/Plurals 40% of all voters 54%-46% Dem +8
Projecting forward, keeping the 2020 vote constant, but now adusting upward for the growth of these generations into the electorate, we end up with:
2024 Pres Millennials/Plurals 37% of all voters 53%-47% Dem +6
If we push 2024 M/Plurals turnout to their share of the overall population, 49%, we end up with:
2024 Pres Millennials/Plurals 49% of all voters 55%-45% Dem +10
There it is. 55%. Just by increasing turnout of these two generations to a level equal to their population distribution in the 2024 election.
Okay, you say, we will never get youth turnout up that high. More Hopium you say. But what if we dropped like $100m starting this spring and made it a national party, pro-democracy coalition wide priority to drive youth registration and turnout through the roof in 2024? Do we think we can move the needle, do something significant, even historic? We think so. We did something historic, something no one thought was possible in 2022. We simply don’t have to accept these lower levels of youth turnout as the norm. We can change it.
Let’s look at the margins Dems have been getting with younger voters in the last 3 elections (using the Exit Polls which you find by clicking on the year below, and which don’t track voters by generation but by 18-29 and 30-44 age cohorts). What’s very clear when you look at this data that the most Democratic part of the electorate votes the least, and the most Republican votes the most. Don’t we think we should try to change that?
Year Under 45 % Vote Over 45 % of Vote
2022 55-42 (+13) 34% 44-54 (-10) 66%
2020 56-42 (+14) 40% 48-51 (-3) 60%
2018 61-36 (+25) 35% 49-50 (-1) 65%
Lets look at the margins Dems got in key battleground states from the under 45 year old vote in 2022 (from the Exit Polls):
AZ Sen 65-31 (+34)
GA Sen 58-44 (+14) (November first round)
MI Gov 63-35 (+28)
NH Sen 67-31 (+36)
NV Sen 62-34 (+28)
PA Sen 63-35 (+28)
PA Gov 65-33 (+32)
This last bit of data reflects our “two elections” analysis (video, memo). We believe that in 2022 there were two elections - a bluer election inside the battleground and a redder election outside. Democrats outperformed 2020 in 7 battleground states, AZ, CO, GA, MI, MN, NH and PA, but we fell back in CA, FL, NY, TX. You can see that while our under 45 year old numbers nationally were down from 2018 and 2020, it looked a lot more like 2018 in the battlegrounds. If you only look at national numbers in 2022 you miss the real story of the election – that Democrats had a great midterm in the states which matter most in American politics, and there were at least two elections, not one.
A few more things to consider as we kick around this “Get to 55” idea:
- The success of the abortion-related ballot initiatives in Kansas and Michigan last year show that abortion can be, under certain circumstances, a true wrecking ball for the Republican coalition. More work needs to be done here to understand the potential the GOP’s extremism on abortion offers Democrats, but this is certainly an area where Dems need to be on offense.
- In an October discussion hosted by NDN Bill Kristol and I explored the idea of some sort of more formal alliance between Democrats and NeverMAGA Republicans. If we were in a parliamentary system we would have perhaps brought the Liz Cheney wing of the GOP into some kind of grand coalition, and she and perhaps others would have become part of our cabinet. We saw many neverMAGA Rs play significant roles in helping Dems win in key races across the country in 2022. This too is an area we need to keep exploring, and become more intentional about. Ron Brownstein estimates that non-MAGAs are 20% of the GOP so this an important area of opportunity for us as the two most likely GOP nominees, Trump and DeSantis, are 100% MAGA.
- While Democrats have lost a bit of ground with Hispanics, the impact of that dip has been wildly exaggerated (we are stronger in the Southwest today than we’ve been in over 80 years). Nevertheless we need to regain what we have lost, and keep working here as the Hispanic electorate is full of new voters whose vote we need to earn every two years. There remains much more upside for us here and we cannot be satisfied with where we are.
I hope the “get to 55” project become something that has many analysts and organizations collaborating to explore, together. I know our friends at Future Majority, being true to their name, plan to do work looking at how to expand our coalition. Morley Winograd, Doug Ross, and Mike Hais have just published a new youth vote analysis with Brookings, and I know they have more analysis coming soon. I expect John Della Volpe will have something to say about this idea, and I hope the folks at Navigator Research take this on (I am big fan of their work). I expect Fernand Amandi, who did some important polling of Hispanic voters with Future Majority in 2022, will also be contributing to this discussion. As will many others.
As folks may know I have a long history of working in this area of finding demographic opportunities for Democrats. Along with Sergio Bendixen, Fernand Amandi, Bob Menendez and Ken Salazar I helped introduce bi-lingual polling and Spanish language advertising to the Democratic Party in 2002, and helped create the party’s national Hispanic strategy which has been among the most successful party wide strategies in either party in the last generation of American politics (video, memo). Morley, Mike, and I did the first Democratic poll ever of Millennials all the way back in 2005, research which became central to their critically acclaimed book, Millennial Makeover. We put a lot of this research into a big magazine article I wrote with my friend Peter Leyden, The 50 Year Strategy: A New Progressive Era (No Really!) back in 2007. In our work back then we argued that by leaning into this new emerging coalition Democrats could expand our then coalition and build something like a durable Democratic majority. At that time Democrats had not broken 50% in a Presidential election since 1976 and not gotten above 50.1% since 1964. We’ve broken 50% in three of the four Presidential elections since, averaging 50.9% over these four elections to the GOP’s um, 46.5%.
This graph (all data is from the Exit Polls) speaks to this emerging Democratic coalition Pete and I, and Morley and Mike saw back in 2007. The big shift of younger Americans (and Hispanics too) happened in the 2006 election. Obama built his campaign around these new demographic realities and got Democrats past 50.1% for the first time since 1964, the only time other than 1964 going all the way back to 1944. I want to repeat this basic stat – from 1944 to 2004, over 60 years, Democrats only broke 50.1% in a Presidential election one time, in 1964, less than a year after Kennedy’s assassination. That we’ve done it in 3 of the last 4 Presidential elections, and have averaged 50.9% during these elections, is a remarkable, historic achievement by the modern Democratic Party. It is our best extended popular vote run since FDR’s Presidency.
In the years after the 2004 election Democrats imagined and built a new majority coalition, their largest and most durable coalition since the 1940s. Now, given the threat of MAGA, we need to imagine and build an even bigger coalition, one that gets us to 55%. It may be the only way to truly ensure that freedom and democracy prevail.