Expectations often define success. Based on that, Democrats had another successful Election Day on Tuesday. Many polls showed Democrats well positioned heading into Election Day, but their margin of victory in many races was larger than anticipated. Democrats kept the governor’s mansion in Kentucky, held the Virginia state Senate and flipped the Virginia state House, added a state Supreme Court justice in Pennsylvania after flipping control of Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court earlier this year, and passed a pro-abortion ballot measure in Ohio.
In contrast, Republican victories have been few and far between following a disappointing 2022 midterm election. This has led some to question the leadership of Republican National Committee (RNC) Ronna Romney McDaniel. Recall that McDaniel beat back a challenge to her leadership at the start of the year. The bigger question from the off-year election results is what it will mean for the 2024 presidential election next year.
Momentum Or Meaningless?
Sometimes, the off-year elections can be a harbinger of a changing political environment. For instance, in 2009, Republicans won gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, a precursor to the 2010 “Tea Party” wave that was a backlash to President Barack Obama and unified Democrat control of Congress. However, in 2021, Republicans again recaptured the governor’s mansion in Virginia and narrowly lost the New Jersey gubernatorial race yet went on to underperform in the 2022 midterm elections. Some attributed the 2021 Republican overperformance to frustration over Covid lockdown restrictions. Biden removed the Covid restrictions after the disappointing Democrat performance in 2021, which caused some to question whether his administration followed “political science.” Regardless, the 2021 Republican overperformance did not translate into victories in the 2022 midterms. (RELATED: STEVE PAVLICK: Is This The End Of The Road For Mitch McConnell?)
A year is an eternity in politics. Democrats understand that Joe Biden and his handling of the economy are political liabilities. That is why they are running on the issue of abortion to energize their voters rather than be tethered to an unpopular president.
Based on the election results in 2022 and 2023, it appears to be a winning strategy. Whether it will be in 2024 remains an open question. At this point they have little else to run on other than Donald Trump being the Republican nominee, which they hope will also energize Democrat voters despite being lukewarm about Biden. As a result, Democrats will likely push for abortion initiatives to be on the ballot in influential swing states in 2024.
According to FiveThirtyEight, there is polling that suggests the issue of abortion is more salient to voters who are more inclined to vote in off-year and midterm elections compared with less regular voters who tend to only vote in presidential year elections and often prioritize other issues, such as the economy. If true, the issue of abortion may not have as much outsized impact next year. Recall that Democrats lost House seats in the 2022 midterms in two reliably Democratic states, California, and New York, where there was less of a threat to reduce access to abortion.
Just like the 2022 midterms, Democrats were once again able to overcome polls showing a low approval for Biden and high disapproval of his handling of the economy. So far, has been no voter backlash to Biden based on the 2022 midterms or the 2023 off-year election results. One theory is sampling error in that people responding to polls are different from those voting. Another theory is measurement error, where respondents tell pollsters they will not vote for Biden next year because they disapprove of his performance but end up voting for Democrats and will likely vote for Biden next year despite what they say. Biden’s campaign will point to Tuesday’s election results as evidence that Democrats need to stop freaking out over a recent flood of poor polls for the president. (ERICK ERICKSON: The 15-Week Abortion Sweet Spot)
It might also help Biden push back against calls for him to step aside and let someone else run. Biden would need to decide relatively soon if he was going to not seek re-election. Tuesday’s results give him more time, and therefore increase the odds that he will stay in the race. What is still unknown is what voters will do when Biden is at top of the ticket with a record to run on. Recent election history has shown a decline in ticket-splitting, with most voters prioritizing their presidential selection. As a result, some Democrats fear that the polls and election results are correct in showing that Democrats do not have a brand problem, rather, they have a Biden problem, specifically concerns about his age and cognitive ability. So far, polls suggest that the “Bidenomics” campaign bet that the economy will improve in the eyes of voters has not panned out, but it is still possible that it could next year. What is not possible is for Biden to do anything about his age, which will only increase, or his cognitive ability, which will only decline; the question is just the pace. In sticking with Biden, Democrats are betting that Biden’s cognitive condition will not deteriorate significantly next year. That is a risky bet, and one that some Democrats believe is not worth taking, regardless of Tuesday’s outcome.
Steve Pavlick is a Partner & Head of Policy at Renaissance Macro and a former Treasury official.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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