History said there should be a red wave.
After all, on average, in the 19 midterms between the end of World War II and this one, the White House party lost 27 House seats, and four in the Senate.
Models based on those fundamentals predicted a loss of 45 Democratic seats.
We still don’t know the final numbers, but instead of a shellacking, this will turn out to be one of the strongest midterm performances for a presidential party in modern history.
There’s lots more data to crunch, but at least three factors appeared to play starring roles: abortion rights, Donald Trump and candidate quality.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization transformed the electoral landscape like no single issue ever has, as I argued here earlier.
However, after the court overturned Roe, Democrats did an average of 9 points better than expected in specials, exceeding their partisan base in every single contest.
In race after race, support for outlawing abortion proved a potent attack on GOP candidates.
In addition, the exit polls found 60 percent of voters favored legal abortion, and they gave Democrats a margin of nearly 50 points.
Donald Trump was a second key factor.
Part of the reason it’s a referendum, not a choice, is that a president provides a singular national symbol of his (so far) party. Representatives of the opposition are more vague, more variegated, and less present on voters’ TV screens and in their consciousness.
Not so in 2022.
His narcissism never in check, Trump made certain he was the clear, singular symbol of the opposition, going so far as to tease his presidential campaign announcement in the final days leading to the election.
Of course, Trump is widely disliked. Only 39 percent of exit poll respondents had a favorable view of Trump, while 58 percent offered unfavorable evaluations.
Putting a guy with 58 percent unfavorables in every voter’s face, every day, during the final run-up to the election is going to limit your gains. Almost as many Americans said their ballot was a vote against Trump as said it was a vote against Biden.
But Trump was not the only GOP candidate with problems. Both directly and indirectly, the former president foisted a series of deeply flawed candidates on his party, and it hurt.
For example, TV doctor Mehmet Oz lived in New Jersey, though he was running in Pennsylvania. Voters noticed. More were concerned about Oz’s residence than about Sen.-elect John Fetterman’s health.
Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt, who failed in his run against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, suffered the indignity of having 14 members of his family write an open letter imploring Nevadans not to vote for their relative.
The reel of ridiculous statements made by GOP candidates, up and down the ballot, would be nearly endless.
Crazy doesn’t sell so well. Neither does Trump, nor outlawing abortion.
Put it all together (plus a few other factors we’ll treat as more data comes in), and you have Democrats stopping the red wave history predicted.