Much has already been written about the mid-term elections and their potential impact on Washington policymaking and the nation. This piece addresses frequent questions and issues raised by our colleagues and clients about the dynamics and potential outcomes of the elections. We will address the policy path forward after the elections.

The Environment in the Final Week.

We now are a week before election day. Particularly with over 20 million people having already voted at this point, it is increasingly unlikely that the election will be impacted by some sort of late-breaking surprise. According to national polls, the economy – specifically inflation – is the top issue on the minds of most voters. Crime is often cited as the second highest concern in many polls. Concerns about threats to democracy, immigration and access to abortion also are significant issues for some voters, but overall resonate less than inflation and crime. Though neither President Biden (approval rating of 43%) nor former President Trump (approval rating of 40%) are on the ballot, they both loom over races across the country. Republicans currently have momentum nationally and in most (but not all) of the competitive races. We don’t see any evidence of this changing in the final days before election day.

Outcome in the House.

Democrats currently hold a 220-212 majority in the House (there also are three vacant seats). Of the 435 seats up for re-election, only about 90 are considered competitive. Following redistricting, 188 seats are solidly Republican, while 161 seats are safely Democratic. Republicans have benefited from redistricting and President Biden’s low approval ratings. They also have an advantage on inflation and crime, the two issues most important to voters. We project that Republicans will win a net of 25 seats, which would give them a majority of about 40 seats in the next Congress.

Outcome in the Senate.

The Senate, which is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, is more difficult to project. Of the 35 seats up for re-election in the upper chamber, only about ten are competitive. We think Republicans will hold on to seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, while Democrats likely will retain seats in Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire and Washington. We project Republicans to flip a Nevada seat currently held by a Democrat. With that seat, Republicans would be able to get an outright majority if they also are able to win either Georgia or Pennsylvania (Democrats retain control in a 50-50 Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris once again would be a tiebreaker). GA is currently a Democratic seat, while PA is currently a Republican one. These two races likely will be the most important in determining which party will control the Senate. The races in both states seem likely to come down to the wire, with GA probably needing a run-off election in December. While it will be very close, the late momentum may give Republicans a slight advantage to win in PA and take the majority. We think the most likely outcomes are either a 51-49 majority for Republicans or a 50-50 majority for Democrats depending on what happens in just a few states.

Reliability of Polling.

Should we trust polling this year? In many cases, probably not. Polling has been inaccurate in the last two presidential elections, but it was fairly accurate in the last mid-term election (2018). Pollsters have worked hard over the last two years to improve upon their work, but they continue to face challenges. Fewer voters these days participate in surveys and those who do are not always candid. In general, voters’ responses to poll questions on their views on policy issues seem to be more accurate than those on preferences for candidates or parties. While polls still play a useful role in reading the political environment, they should be taken for what they are; an imperfect tool that is still the public’s best measure of electoral races.

Watching on Election Night.

As we watch voting results come in from around the country next Tuesday night, the following is our timetable for knowing the outcomes of crucial races that will help determine which party controls the House and Senate. A full list of closing times in the states can be found here.

  • At 7 pm ET, polls will close in Florida, Virginia and GA. Early statewide returns in FL (which does an excellent job of counting mail-in ballots) and GA could be useful indicators of the accuracy of some polling. If the Republican wins the Senate seat in GA outright (instead of going to a run-off election or losing), this would be a good signal that Republicans will have a majority in the Senate next year. Similarly, Republican wins in two swing House districts in VA (VA-02 and VA-07) could be a sign that Republicans will have a smooth path to winning back control of the House.
  • At 8 pm ET, polls will close in Michigan, Texas, NH and PA. The big result here will be the PA Senate race, where a final winner will likely not be announced that evening. Election laws in the Keystone State that block election officials from processing and counting mail-in ballots until election day could delay the announcement of the result by a day or two. We don’t expect a Republican upset in the NH Senate race, but if one occurred that would be a clear indicator of a Republican majority in the Senate. MI and TX both feature competitive House races (notably MI-03, MI-07, MI-08, TX-28 and TX-34). The results of these tight races should be reported fairly quickly. By the time we are seeing results from these races, we might have a clear idea of control of the House.
  • At 9 pm ET, polls close in AZ, CO and WI. AZ and WI both feature tightly contested Senate races. On a very good night for Republicans, the CO Senate seat could be in play. The results from these statewide races likely won’t be known until late in the night or the next day. Retention of the Senate seat in WI is key and likely a necessary building block for a Republican majority in the upper chamber.
  • Polls close at 10 pm ET in NV, while 11 pm ET will bring poll closures in California, Oregon and WA. If the control of the House is not clear at this point, then it’s likely to be a very narrow majority regardless of which party has it. These four states collectively have 14 competitive seats that could end up deciding the majority (all four states mail ballots to all voters and accept ballots after the election as long as they have been properly post-marked). If we’re waiting on the West Coast to determine who controls Congress, you have our permission to go enjoy a good night sleep and check back in the morning.

Will We Know Results on Election Day Night?

A common question is what time will we know for certain which party will be in control in the House and Senate. Given that each state sets its own election rules and procedures by which votes are counted, there is no clear-cut answer. In particular, different states have different rules on the timing of accepting and then processing and counting mail-in ballots. That being said, we should have a sense of which party will be in control of the House by the end of the evening. However, the Senate may be different. Beyond the aforementioned time differences between states on accepting and counting mail-in ballots, there could be a run-off in GA. The Peach State requires a candidate to win 50% of the vote in order to be declared the winner. If no candidate receives 50%, the two highest vote getters would advance to a run-off election on December 6. The bottom line is that there’s a good chance we won’t know which party controls the Senate by the time you turn off the TV on election day.

Don’t Forget the Governors Races.

There are 36 gubernatorial elections in 2022, but only eight of them are expected to be competitive. Most governors up for re-election won in 2018, which was a very strong Democratic year. This year, Republicans are challenging in six of the eight competitive states being defended by Democrats (Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, NV, OR and WI). Democrats have two easy flips in Massachusetts and Maryland, where popular Republican governors cannot seek re-election. Two ultra-competitive seats in AZ and GA seem likely to be maintained by Republicans. One potential upset is OR. The Republican candidate is currently leading and would be the first Republican to reside in the governor’s mansion since 1987. One interesting phenomenon is that Republican gubernational candidates in many states (notably AZ, GA, NH, NV and OH) are polling significantly higher than the party’s nominees in the Senate race in those states. Republicans currently hold the governor’s mansion in 28 states and the outcomes from this year’s elections are unlikely to substantially change that advantage.

Same for State Legislative Races.

Although sometimes overlooked, state legislatures hold tremendous political power. And with some recent Supreme Court decisions shifting power back to the states from the federal government (including on abortion), state legislatures are more important than ever. Republicans currently hold a majority in 62 state houses while Democrats have a majority in 36. Ten legislative chambers are expected to be competitive this year, with Democrats holding seven of the chambers to three for Republicans. While this would appear to heavily favor Republicans on paper, Democrats may have more to gain. There currently are Democratic governors in two of the three states where Republicans are on the defensive (Minnesota and MI). As such, Democrats have an opportunity to win control of both branches of the state legislature and governor’s mansion in these states. Meanwhile, Republicans are on the offensive in Alaska, MN, ME, CO, NV and OR. All but AK currently have Democratic governors. While MN, ME, NV and OR are all seen as competitive gubernatorial races, it will be an uphill battle for Republicans to win across the board and have full control of the executive and legislative branches in many of those states. Expect to hear much more about which parties control which state legislatures as the 2024 presidential elections approach.

Ballot Initiatives.

In addition to voting on specific candidates, voters in many states also have to decide on a variety of ballot measures. One hundred and thirty-two statewide measures will be on the ballot in 37 different states this November. Two issues in particular will be focal points in multiple states: abortion and legalization of recreational marijuana. In five states, voters will be asked to approve measures addressing abortion. Of those, the ballot measures in three states (Vermont, CA, MI) would be on enacting policies to expand abortion access, while those in two states (Kentucky and Montana) would be on restrictive measures. Five states (Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and MD) also will have ballot initiatives on whether to join the 19 states that currently legalize recreational marijuana in one form or another. There are also ballot measures on numerous important issues such as criminal justice, election law, immigration and other topics that will shape states’ policies in the years ahead.

The 2024 Senate Map.

Even though the 2022 mid-term elections have not concluded, both parties have already begun to study what will be a difficult Senate map for Democrats in 2024. Democrats will have to defend 23 seats, while Republicans only will have 10. To make matters even more challenging, seven of those seats that Democrats have to defend are in states that Trump won in either 2016 or 2020 (West Virginia, AZ, MI, MT, OH, PA, WI). Another is in NV, a state that has historically had highly contested Senate elections. Republicans meanwhile will not have to defend a seat in any state won by Clinton or Biden in 2016 and 2020 (FL likely would be their most difficult seat to defend). Democrats’ performance in key Senate races this year will determine not only control of the Senate over the next two years, but also how well-positioned they will be to withstand what will be a tough 2024 electoral map.

Impact on the 2024 Presidential Election.

Even with the 2022 elections not yet behind us, the 2024 presidential elections have already begun behind the scenes. On the Democratic side, President Biden has stated numerous times that he plans to run for re-election, although that has not stopped speculation to the contrary. While President Biden will face blame for Democrats’ expected losses this year in House and Senate elections, a good night for Democrats could strengthen his position to run in 2024. On the Republican side, former President Trump has also signaled a desire to run in 2024, though this year’s result will also affect his standing. If Republicans don’t flip the Senate due to losses by candidates hand-picked by Trump, the former president’s standing could slip in the party. If his candidates win (especially in GA, AZ, PA and OH), his hand will be strengthened. We will address the likelihood of a Biden-Trump rematch in a future edition.