By Larry Levine –
Remember the RED WAVE. It was all the rage in October. Pundits and reporters latched onto it in doomsday predictions of what was going to happen to the Democratic Party at the November elections. They couldn’t say those two words often enough. RED WAVE.
Forty seats in the House of Representatives were going to flip from Democrat to Republican, maybe more, and with a new majority Republicans were going to investigate Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Jill Biden, and anyone and everyone who was part of the Biden family or administration. Impeachment was on their lips.
The Republicans also were going to wrest control of the Senate and flush all future Biden judicial appointees and most of his legislative agenda down the drain.
So, what happened? Why did the Republicans barely squeak out a slim majority in the House, a majority that will be all but unmanageable for the new Republican speaker, if Kevin McCarthy can manage to win that job? Five Republicans say they won’t vote for McCarthy because he’s not conservative enough. Thirty-five other Republican caucus members are expressing unrest at the notion of a house so divided along partisan lines under a McCarthy speakership that nothing will get done. Let’s call them the I’d-Like-to-Get-Something-Done-While-I’m-Here Caucus. They pose an added challenge for McCarthy in his drive to cobble together the votes to become speaker. They also represent an opportunity for Democrats to coalesce with these Republicans to deny McCarthy the position and elect a moderate Republican as speaker in a kind of parliamentary maneuver.
Not only did the Republicans fail to capture the Senate, Democrats actually gained two seats. Even with Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema changing her registration from Democrat to independent, Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate.
The New York Democratic Party messed up the redistricting process in that state, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made some questionable decisions about which races to fund and which to not fund. Otherwise, the Democrats would still be in the majority in the House as well as the Senate.
Republicans held 28 governorships before the November elections. Now they have 26. There was no rush to Republicans in state legislative races across the county. What turnover that did occur appears to have been more the result of partisan redistricting.
When all was said and done about the Red Wave, more was said than done. For the first time in 20 years the party of the incumbent President did not get kicked to the curb in the mid-terms. That history was one of the key elements cited by cable TV talking heads and newspaper and magazine columnists as they became invested in the Red Wave narrative. That and the visually weak approval numbers for President Biden. The election results are adequate reason to question the Biden polling numbers as well.
Veteran Democratic pollster Gene Bregman believes the false impression of a potential Red Wave may have started with societal and political factors that have impacted the science of polling. As people increasingly turn to cell phones and abandon land lines, the ability of polling companies to reach voters in models that reflect the actual turnout has been impacted. People are disinclined to answer calls from numbers not in their contact list or not recognized. This is particularly acute among younger votes at a time when young voters are showing greater interest in participating in elections.
Polling companies always have had to make adjustments in their numbers to account for imbalances among voters reached. If the completed calls did not reflect accurately the number of male voters, for instance, “weighting” was done to resolve the discrepancy. Poll respondents in the under-represented group were given added weight. The adjustments, formerly relatively minor, have had to become larger.
Further complicating the accuracy of polls are changes in the voting process. In time pollsters may adjust to these changes, but in the meantime, as more jurisdictions introduce things like early voting, ballot drop boxes, election day registration, and mail-in balloting, turnouts have increased and the composition of the electorate has become less predictable. In 2020 it was believed that the Trump factor drove turnout to record highs and increased turnout among younger voters. This year, without Trump on the ballot, turnout again soared. It simply has become easier to vote.
Also impacting the turnout this year were the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. While many came to believe the anger generated by that decision ebbed by Election Day and inflation would be the determinative issue of the year, preliminary analysis indicates a surge among women voters that may not have been considered in constructing turnout models. This may be evidenced by the election of record numbers of women.
Not so widely discussed as a driver of this year’s turnout, particularly younger voters, is the Republican effort to block the Biden administration’s move to forgive student loan debt. This historically low-turnout segment of the electorate also appears to have been under anticipated in constructing turnout models for many polls. Where it has been possible to track such things, it appears younger voters made up a signification portion of those mailing in ballot late after voting in the convenience of their own homes.
The unexpected numbers of women and young voters not accounted for in polling models may not have been the most signification factor in creating the perception of an impending Red Wave. Credible analysis indicates polls by non-partisan entities were fairly accurate. The inaccuracies were coming from polling by firms that work mostly or exclusively for Republicans. These firms and Republican candidates, operatives, and leadership touted the numbers shown in those polls with such frequency and volume that much of the mainstream media bought into the notion that a Red Wave was coming. After all, there was all that history.
For Republicans the narrative had a secondary benefit: the prospect of a Republican tsunami would boost Republican fundraising and discourage turnout among Democratic voters.
The final culprit in creating the myth of a coming Red Wave was easy and lazy reporting and commentary in the mainstream press. History shows the party in power always suffers in the mid-term election, the litany went, so it will happen again. Biden’s approval is low so he can’t lead his party to victory, went the drumbeat. Inflation is high and it’s still the economy, stupid, was the narrative. These historically-based factors opened the door for reporters and pundits to swallow the Red Wave message unchallenged. Under the pressure to fill the 24-hour news cycle and with newsroom staff cuts impacting the ability to assess the partisan factors of polls being touted, the herd mentality took over and the potential Red Wave took on a life of its own. And then there was the Trump factor. Though not on the ballot, his media presence shadowed Republicans everywhere.
At the end of the day, the Red Wave never reached the shores of America because it probably never was real to begin with.