As we head down the stretch of the final week of the campaign, two distinct, partisan narratives are emerging. Republicans are giddy at the prospect that the red wave that seemed to have subsided over the summer is back. Democrats are saying that the media is buying into the GOP narrative despite evidence to the contrary. Both sides are trying to influence the way the media covers the election in hopes of either motivating their base, or in the case of Republicans, depressing their opponents’ base.
The GOP narrative is based mainly on polls and the economy. They believe that inflation is the driving factor the race and that crime is a close second. Both issues favor the party out of power. They point to voters who stubbornly insist that the country is headed in the wrong direction and that their dissatisfaction with Biden seems to have hardened. Their base seems motivated to show up to vote against Biden and voice their displeasure with the economy while swing voters seem poised to vote overwhelming against the White House.
Essentially, Republicans believe that voters are returning to what has largely become the new normal. Midterm elections result in a wave election for the party out of power. With inflation at a 40 year high and interest rates continuing to climb, Republicans believe voters will blame the Democrats who control the White House and Congress. They believe the abortion has largely subsided as a major factor in the election and voters have mainly ignored the work of the January 6 Committee. As one conservative pundit wrote, they are expecting to pick numerous seats in Congress that aren’t even on the radar screen right now.
Democrats are pushing back hard. They claim that early vote favors Democrats and pundits have been wrong all year about the mood of the electorate. According to Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, Democrats are performing better this year during early vote than they were in 2018. Bonier also believes that a lot of the polls showing dramatic GOP movement are low-quality polls designed to both juice Republican enthusiasm and dampen Democratic hopes through driving a negative media narrative.
Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic activist/operative has been pushing the notion that Democratic early vote is surpassing 2018 also. He notes that a Harvard poll shows youth vote more enthused than in the past and that McConnell’s SuperPAC has pulled out of the Arizona and New Hampshire but is still spending in Ohio and North Carolina, two states the GOP should have locked down if a wave is really in sight.
Democratic consultants Mike Lux and Bob Creamer are arguing that the pundits have had the election cycle wrong all year. Despite media coverage and polling, Democrats won huge in Kansas against an abortion ban. They won a special election in New York that many predicted would go Republican. And they picked up a Congressional seat in Alaska that’s been Republican for decades. They are arguing that this year is not like the past and the making predictions based on past behavior is a mistake.
The two narratives are at odds with each other. The mainstream media leans toward the GOP narrative because most of the polls coming from outlets like CNN, Wall Street Journal, and CBS show momentum favoring the GOP. The WSJ poll shows a huge shift of suburban women from Democrat to Republican since August, moving mainly because of the economy and crime. A CNN poll this morning shows the generic ballot favoring Republicans 51-47. The CBS poll this weekend predicted the GOP would take House with a pickup of at least 15 seats, though they said high turnout among less likely voters could change that and give Democrats a better year.
Personally, I’m preparing for a GOP wave. I don’t really know which narrative is right, but when I back away from all the noise, I suspect voters are going to return to their usual habits. The Republican base will come out in significantly larger numbers than the Democratic base because they always do, even in years when Democrats do well. The swing voters who make up the 10% or so who decide elections are generally lower-information voters who are self-interested, focusing on kitchen table issues instead of political narratives. If they believe life is going well, they don’t want much change and will stick with whomever is in power. If they are dissatisfied with life, then they will vote for a change and throw out the incumbent party. I think they are largely unhappy with the country for a variety of reasons, not all of which are rational, and they are going to blame Democrats.
I hope I’m wrong and that we see a surge in younger voters and that women vote for their privacy over their pocketbooks. However, 2016 cured me of optimism. I’m waiting for an election that gives me as much elation as that election gave me despair. You can only get that level of joy if you’re pretty sure your side is going to lose.