Political scientists are often asked to predict the outcome of upcoming elections. It’s important to note that I am at the mercy of the polls which are guesses themselves. Pollsters have the unenviable task of anticipating how people will vote and how that will impact the district’s electorate. This has become increasingly difficult because technology has impacted how we can reach potential voters and fewer people trust polling organizations and are less likely to respond. However, there are several things political scientists have found over the years that can influence our understanding of what is likely to happen.
- Early data indicates that we will see a continuation of the voter surge that started in 2018, when saw the highest voter turnout in a midterm election in close to 100 years. The same occurred in 2020. While voter turnout was pretty low throughout the end of the 20th century, we are seeing an increase in turnout. It appears the 2022 cycle will follow suit.
- Political scientists know that the president’s party loses seats in midterms. This has happened all but two times since World War II. In 2018, the GOP lost 40 seats in the House. Combining 2010 and 2014, the Democrats lost 77 seats in the House. As a result, it makes sense to expect Democrats to lose control of the House following the 2022 election as they only have 220 seats and Republicans have 212.
- One of the primary models used by political scientists is called the fundamentals model. This model considers two primary factors: the popularity of the sitting president and the state of the economy. Neither of those look good for Democrats. If this model is followed, we would expect Democrats to lose roughly 40 seats in the House in 2022.
- Following the 2020 Census we saw several states controlled by Democrats explicitly choose to not allow their state to engage in partisan gerrymandering, while many Republican states have allowed it. One recent analysis suggests that if the national vote for the House was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, we would expect Republicans to have an 18 seat advantage simply because of the impact of gerrymandering.
- One can find a lot of national polls using a “generic ballot” for Congress. We generally do not put much stock in generic ballots except to assess the mood of the country. This is because they don’t include incumbency, the strength of candidates or local information.
- Both parties have nominated candidates around the country that are (charitably) bad; or, as I describe them at home, utterly terrible. This means there will be several elections that come down to small differences because one party has nominated a bad candidate in one place and the other party has done so in another. Both parties will look back on the election wishing they had picked other candidates in some locations…and maybe at times in the same location.
This leaves me with the following assumptions: the Republicans should win more seats than they will. This is particularly true when looking at the Senate. Given the fundamentals of this election with high inflation, gas prices and a pessimistic public with a president that is unpopular, we would expect Republicans to run away with this election. The Dobbs Supreme Court decision did excite a number of Democrat voters in the summer, but we would expect that to pale in comparison to dissatisfaction with the state of the country.
Regardless, both parties will claim victory… but the real loser will be the Constitutional system that was established to require compromise. My expectation is that the Republicans will retake the House of Representatives with somewhere close to 230 members. I believe it is likely that control of the Senate will come down to races in Pennsylvania and Georgia. I expect the Senate to remain tied or a 51-seat majority for either party.
- Locally, evidence suggests that Matt Cartwright and Jim Bognet are in a close race. Polling is not very consistent on this election, but the district did tilt slightly less Republican after the 2020 Census and Cartwright defeated Bognet in 2020. It is important to note that Bognet underperformed compared to President Trump in the 8th district in 2020, while Cartwright overperformed compared to Biden in 2020. I expect the 8th district to be close, but it appears Cartwright will retain his seat by a small margin especially given his large lead in fundraising.
- The Senate race between Fetterman and Oz is also close. The race has tightening in recent weeks and both sides have a lot of money to spend heading into the final stretch. The Republican Party desperately wants to retain the seat of the retiring Pat Toomey. I see this election as very close with a narrow victory for Fetterman following legal challenges and recounts.
- The Gubernatorial race seems to be the one race that most people are predicting more confidently. I think this election will be closer than most polls suggest as it indicates Shapiro has an almost 10 point lead on Mastriano. But, given the large disparity in fundraising between the two candidates, I think Shapiro will win in a closer than predicted election.
Wilkes University Assistant Professor of Political Science, Benjamin Toll, has been featured in regional, national and international media outlets for his expertise on Luzerne County voters. He recently wrote a book chapter about campaigning in Pennsylvania with a focus on the 8th congressional district. In the chapter, Toll focuses on the themes of the 2020 campaign and how local candidates sought to tie their campaign to national issues or whether they focused on local issues.