I don't know much about politics, but I'm very curious about the reaction to the midterm elections. Although, as of right now, the Republicans are still leading or tied for both the House and Senate, they seem to be wailing and gnashing their teeth, while the democrats are exhilarated, ecstatic, and euphoric. Why? Isn't control of those two bodies the main goal toward which they strive? It seems like a football team that was projected to win 30-17 is blue (despondent, that is) because it seems they will only win 30-27 (and the reverse on the other side: relief that they didn't get creamed). What gives?
Because a big "red wave" was expected and it was thought that Democrats would lose control of both the House and Senate, and the House by a large margin. This is not what happened and because of that Republicans did not gain the power they expected and Democrats held on to power they did not expect to.
The key thing to remember about this is typically in the first mid-term election for a president the balance in the House and Senate shift to the other party. This is especially true for a president that is not popular as is the case with Biden. People are taking this as both a sign for the 2024 elections and what it means for Trump's future in politics.
In addition there is the fact that several states had issues about abortion on the ballot and none of them went the way of Republicans and limiting it.
In the end it appears as if Trump, and other actions taken this year by the Supreme Court and various states, did not get the expected results and could have actually hurt them.
1.The ‘red wave’ is off
Should Republicans fail to pick up one seat in the Senate (the gain they need to flip it), it would be just the seventh time the opposition party has failed to do so in a midterm over the past 100 years. And the average gain for the opposition party in House races over the past 100 years is 29 seats, which Republicans won’t match.
3. Trump’s bad night got worse
But that might not be the end of it for Trump. After his 2020 loss, he set about throwing his weight around in GOP primaries, in part to reinforce that he was still in charge. He wound up getting some flawed candidates through their primaries. As of now, each of the four Senate toss-up races feature Trump-backed candidates — and with the potential exception of Nevada’s Adam Laxalt, each of those candidates has had image problems.
If Republicans don’t take the Senate, there will be (or at least should be) a reckoning over how that happened. Oz’s loss is the biggest blow because he probably wouldn’t have won his close primary without Trump. Herschel Walker was simply not a good candidate, but Trump put him on a glide path to the nomination. And in Arizona, Blake Masters was also someone voters were reluctant to cast ballots for.
Swing states should tilt Republican in a GOP-leaning year, and it’s possible Republicans still might gain a seat. But it probably shouldn’t have been this close. And it seems quite possible — as it did after the Georgia runoffs in 2020 — that Trump might’ve cost his party a very winnable Senate majority.
5. How Democrats did it
Surely Roe v. Wade being overturned played a role, delivering the Democrats turnout fuel in an election in which it had been lacking — and an election whose fundamentals favored the opposition party. The effect of the court’s decision showed up almost immediately after it came down, with Democrats suddenly overperforming in every special election.
But this election wasn’t just about the relative strengths of the parties’ bases; it was also about independents. Exit polls currently show that independent voters favored Democrats 49 percent to 47 percent.
That’s not a big victory, but it is highly unusual for a midterm election. The opposition party has won independents by double digits in each of the last four midterm elections, but the GOP might lose them when all is said and done in this one. (Exit polls get readjusted as results roll in.) This was a choice election, even as midterms are usually a referendum on the party in power.
Also driving that home: Democrats actually won voters who disapproved of President Biden “somewhat,” 49 percent to 45 percent.
It appears that Democrats have retained control of the Senate after securing 50 seats and have the possibility of getting 51 with a runoff in December. This means at worst control of the Senate is unchanged but they could be gaining a seat.
Democrats managed to win 51 seats in the senate causing Republicans to lose a seat. This along with the smaller win in the House then expected can be seen as a sign for future elections.
The other answer addresses how failing to meet the expectation of a major victory can make a narrow victory feel like defeat but there is another point.
The elected officials are not entirely monolithic. If you are ahead by 10 votes you can do things not everyone agrees with. If you are ahead by a single vote you need to compromise significantly so that any actions you want to take can be accepted by your least willing member. The way things look at the moment the Republicans will, at the very least, have to consider the opinions of their more moderate elected officials.
As of this writing, Democrats look pretty good to keep the Senate, quite possibly with a larger margin than before. And meanwhile, the House is still in play. So at least some of the exuberance you are seeing may be sudden, unexpected hope about actually winning those. There are also numerous state-level victories (governorships, state legislatures, referendums) that are potentially big deals, and already in the bag.
Joe W is also right to point out that a narrow loss when you expected a major loss can feel like a win. And Eric Nolan is completely correct about how the narrow margin in the House could limit Republicans.
But there’s another point I don’t see getting made:
It matters how, where, and why Republicans underperformed
Consider New York: in that state, Republicans had something much closer to the Election Day they were expecting. They picked up a large number of House seats, and while they didn’t win the governorship, they were very close and the Democratic candidate had a number of advantages going into the race. They even took the seat of the DCCC chairman, which is a significant symbolic victory and a bit of an embarrassment for Democrats.
Exit polling in New York showed much higher rates of concern about crime and inflation—the topics that Republicans largely ran on—than in many other parts of the country. That is, many of the races in New York were about the things that the Republicans wanted to make the race about. It isn’t that the rest of the country isn’t concerned about these things—they were ranked highly everywhere—but that in much of the rest of the country, voters also had other concerns: abortion and democracy.
The New York Republicans were, by and large, not election deniers. Abortion is also entirely safe in the state, barring a federal ban, anyway. New Yorkers weren’t very concerned about those issues. Voters in many other places, on the other hand, were concerned about those—and that drove a much-higher-than-expected vote for the Democratic Party. And this is a big deal.
When abortion rights were directly on the ballot, it won every time, across the entire country. Including in deeply red states like Kentucky. It also effectively helped all of the “down-ballot” races for Democrats—see, for example, their unexpected trifecta in Michigan for the first time since the ’80s.
Meanwhile, while election deniers won plenty of House seats, when voters were offered the opportunity to put one in charge of elections in their state, they opted not to in almost every case. (Certainly in any place you could call a “swing state.”)
Democrats were deeply concerned about these issues, and they were especially concerned that much of the country—those who don’t pay a lot of attention to politics—would fail to grasp the danger with respect to these two issues. Going into the election, Biden was getting a lot of flack for trying to emphasize “democracy” at all—it was considered a dead issue, that those who had concerns about it already knew how they were voting and those who were undecided didn’t believe in the danger. There were many claims that the Democrats had misplayed the election and that they should have focused exclusively on “kitchen table” issues.
Well, New York showed that, in this environment (high inflation, rising crime, the general way that mid-term elections always push back on sitting presidents), those “kitchen table” concerns were often winning issues for Republicans: there is a reason why they were expected to win so heavily. So for Democrats, who desperately wanted the country to understand “MAGA Republicans” as potentially-existential threats to women’s rights and American democracy as a whole, it is extremely gratifying to see that the message seems to have been received. There is hope, for the first time in years, that the Republican party might finally take a step back from their extremist fringe—or, at least, that if they don’t, voters will make them pay for it.
US politics became really topsy-turvy weird in late 2020 and early 2021 when the Republican Party split into two factions, with one faction feeling obligated to back President Donald Trump and the other faction wanting to distance itself from him. In the almost two years since then, the pro-Trump faction has been getting much more press, and its views have become caricatures of those the GOP has traditionally held, if not flipped completely from them. (The GOP, for example, was traditionally pro-military and anti-Russia, but many recent GOP candidates opposed supplying our equipment to people who would use it to destroy Russian military equipment for us.)
Although there are some respects in which the balance between those who call themselves Republicans versus those who call themselves Democrats is "officially" more important than the balance between pro-Trump and anti-Trump Republicans, that will only be true if the anti-Trump Republicans side with pro-Trump Republicans on key votes. Given a choice between having things like the House Speakership controlled by pro-Trump Republicans or by Democrats, it's possible some anti-Trump Republicans may view Democrat control as the lesser of two evils.
If you can't manage to make any sense of what's happening in American politics, there's a good reason. What's happening has completely ceased making any sense.
Part of the reason is that the Republicans are not "leading or tied" for the Senate. Since Wednesday morning the Democrats have shown a 80-90% chance of winning a majority in the Senate, going by betting exchange data.
By the same data, Republicans have an 80-90% chance of winning the House. So the most likely outcome is currently R House/D Senate. If Republicans are disappointed, it's because before Wednesday morning they were widely expected to win both.
I think it's mainly because of anchoring effects, and how the Republicans not winning more seats shows a lot of weakness. But your analogy of a football game is not all that apt. Although there are some conferences that settle ties with margin of victory, for the most part league/conference standings are the same whether you win a game by 20 points or 1. In politics, however, the margin of victory does matter.
If the Republicans take the Senate with only 51 seats, then just one Republican voting against something can be enough to defeat it. This means that it will harder for them to pass their more extreme agenda. During the Kavanaugh confirmation, for instance, Republicans had only 52 Senators, and two of them abstained. If Democrats had gotten one more of the other seats, they may have been able to stop the confirmation (although of course perhaps one of the two Senators who abstained in reality would have voted in this hypothetical, if they knew they were the deciding vote). It was the political norm before 2016 that presidents mostly get their way with nominations, with only the more extreme choices being rejected. If the Republicans get 51 seats, the Democrats need only one of those Senators to respect that norm to get a nomination through.
If the Republicans had managed to get to 60, then they would have enough votes for cloture, meaning the Democrats wouldn't be able to filibuster. But with Biden having the veto, a Republican Congress would not be able to do much except block the Democrats' agenda. They can threaten a government shutdown if Biden doesn't accept their budget, but holding the line on that will be much more difficult with a smaller margin; you need just a few representatives to decide it's not worth the political risk. Having a smaller margin also means that the Democrats have less ground to make up in the next election.
If you follow tennis at all, you'll know that players are normally expected to win the games where they serve. If you're losing these games, the chances are you're going to lose the match.
It's the normal expectation that both houses swing decisively away from the party of the sitting president in the mid-term elections. This what we expect. The general consensus is that Biden is not particularly popular, so we might have expected a massive swing to the Republicans this time round. As it goes, the Democrats have performed better in these mid-term elections than any other party of government in the last 20 years. The last time the party of the sitting president managed to keep control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections was in 2002. [And at that point the US had been fighting two wars in the wake of 9/11, so arguably it might have been expected.]
By any standards, the Democrats have done remarkably well, or conversely given Biden's approval rating, the Republicans have done remarkably badly. Take your pick. They've lost their service game, and this does not bode well for them in the next elections.