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Maybe Democrats Aren’t Totally Screwed in the Midterms


What if the Democrats aren’t actually screwed in November?

The party’s midterm prospects has seemed dim for months: President Joe Biden was polling poorly, congressional Democrats couldn’t seem to get it together, and an extremist GOP that only last year instigated a violent insurrection seemed poised to return to power on Capitol Hill. But while Republicans remain the likely favorites for now this fall, there have been promising signs of late that things for the Democrats may not be as bleak as they once appeared.

After months of downward spiraling, Biden’s approval rating appeared to rebound in a Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this week, finally returning to 40% favorable. That’s still low, but it’s improving, and cause for hope that the president’s poll numbers won’t poison his party down the ballot this November. A Fox News survey out Thursday was perhaps even more encouraging: After months of more enthusiasm among Republicans than Democrats in the poll, party preference for this year’s congressional races are now evenly split, 41% to 41%. And on Friday, FiveThirtyEight revised the Democrats’ chances to hold onto their House majority upward, putting their odds at keeping the gavel away from Kevin McCarthy at 20%.

That may not sound terribly high, and it’s not. The political environment remains unfavorable for Democrats, and the conventional wisdom remains that the president’s party tends to struggle in the midterms. It happened to Barack Obama in 2010 and 2014. It happened to Donald Trump in 2018. It could very well happen to Biden in 2022. But it’s certainly not a given, and the prospects of a Democratic upset have appeared to grow in recent weeks, with the midterm outlook going from “bleak to blurry,” as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump put it Thursday.

“We’ve seen a dramatic change in numbers in the last few months,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Friday, citing what he described as mounting dissatisfaction with Trump and extremist Republicans and growing confidence in Democrats. 

What’s changed? Perhaps the biggest factor here is the deeply unpopular Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and its aftermath, which laid bare the cruelty and danger of the Republican agenda. But the Democrats themselves have mounted a significant rally more recently, with a remarkable run of legislative success in the last several weeks, culminating with the Inflation Reduction Act — the landmark climate, health, and tax legislation that the House will send to Biden’s desk Friday. Combine all that with easing inflation, and the Democrats appear to be on the upswing. “Between passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, killing al Qaeda’s leader, less pain at the pump, and the Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices taking away abortion rights, the political landscape is less horrible for Democrats,” Chris Anderson, a Democratic pollster who helped conduct the Fox News survey, told the outlet. “There are successes Democrats can point to that didn’t exist in the spring, but the biggest single change I see in this poll is the increased disapproval of the Supreme Court and suspect that is a significant factor.”

The encouraging signs here should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt — but they are perhaps a reminder that the bad signs should be, too. For all the real voter frustration with Biden and the Democrats over the last year, the vote this fall will ultimately come down to a choice between them and an increasingly radical Republican party, which remains under the spell of a man who appears to be in significant legal jeopardy. Clearly, there are enough Americans who embrace that extremism — or are prone to overlook it — to deliver Republicans to power, a scenario that could spell disaster for democracy. But maybe, just maybe, the depravity of the contemporary GOP, and the reinvigorated Democrats, could upend the historical trends. “The way I look at it, if we held the election today,” Schumer said Friday, “there’s a damn good chance we’d pick up a few seats.”





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