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OPINION: Biden’s leadership deficit still weighing on midterms

By Robert Romano

Date:

Comes amid wave of dissatisfaction as 54 percent disapprove

Voter attitudes are setting in ahead of the 2022 Congressional midterm elections amid a wave of dissatisfaction over high inflation, food shortages, and an imminent recession. President Joe Biden is garnering a whopping 54 percent disapproval rating, according to [a recent] average of national polls by RealClearPolitics.com.

Congressional Republicans for their part still lead the generic ballot, too, 45.5 percent to 43.4 percent, which, again, is definitely what you’d expect to see at this point in a midterm cycle that traditionally favors the opposition party.

In midterm elections dating back to 1906 through 2018, in 89.7 percent of cases, the White House incumbent party loses seats in the House, and in 58.6 percent of cases, it loses seats in the Senate. The average losses experienced, in the years in which there was a loss, was 35 seats in the House and 5 seats in the Senate. When all years were included, the average loss was 31 seats in the House and about 3 seats in the Senate.

For House losses, the exceptions to the rule were Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s expansion of Democratic majorities during the Great Depression in 1932, Bill Clinton’s benefitting from a booming economy and public discontent over Congress’ pursuit of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, and George W. Bush’s surge in the polls following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The years the Senate has experienced losses in many years were mitigated by the regionality of Senate elections, where only one-third of the membership comes up for election every two years.

Certain Democratic senators whose elections are falling in this year are particularly vulnerable, thanks to the midterm cycle. The Democratic seats that appear to be in play this year include Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.

In a similar vein, some Republicans are opting to retire this year, assuming it will be easier to replace a Republican seat with midterm turnout favoring the GOP. Still, retiring seats tend to carry increased vulnerability, too, regardless of the cycle. Those seats include Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, and Missouri.

That’s the map so far. But there could be headwinds for Republicans after a leak from the Supreme Court revealed that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortions might be overturned this year. Economist/YouGov, Politico/Morning Consult and NPR/PBS/Marist all show Democrats jumping an average of 3.3 percentage points in their own generic ballot polls, following news of the pending decision. We’ll see if that sticks.

In the meantime, Democrats will run on eliminating the filibuster, amending the Judiciary Act of 1869, and packing the Supreme Court. What else is there for them to do?

On the other hand, one of the particularly vexing dilemmas Supreme Court decisions pose to both political parties is the seeming generational finality of their decisions. Republicans have solidified a seeming 6 to 3 majority, [as measured by whom they] were appointed. And Democrats are nowhere close to achieving majorities needed to, say, pack the Supreme Court, under these circumstances.

Let’s say Democrats hold their Georgia and Arizona seats, and even pick up the Pennsylvania seat held by the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.). This is the worst-case scenario for Republicans in the midterms, by the way.

Even then, both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), neither of whom are up for reelection this year, have been hard Nos on eliminating the Senate filibuster. So, even if Democrats net one Senate seat in the midterms, they’d still fall short of the votes needed to eliminate a Senate filibuster. But if they net two seats, that would be a different story.

Overall, though, the temperature of the elections tends to be set by the U.S. president. Can he turn the midterm jinx on its head? In this case, Biden’s leadership deficit, and the continued bad economic news are a potent, and potentially toxic, combination for Democrats. The bump Democrats are getting because of the Supreme Court could still be outmatched by the natural advantage Republicans possess this year. We’ll see in November. Stay tuned.        


Robert Romano is the VP of public policy at Americans for Limited Government (ALG). The organization says it is a “non-partisan, nationwide network committed to advancing free-market reforms, private property rights, and core American liberties.” 

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