Republicans’ red wave was supposed to crash over the country in the midterm elections, sweeping them into office up and down the ballot. While the polls didn’t necessarily indicate Republicans would dominate the election, history and much of the preelection narrative suggested they would easily retake the House of Representatives as well as gain control of the Senate and pick up governorships and seats in state legislatures.
That didn’t pan out. But not because a red wave didn’t materialize at all — it just crashed into a series of regional blue riptides. These crosscurrents offset to some extent, leading to Republicans taking back the House by the narrowest of margins. At last count, the Republicans held 219 seats — just above the 218 necessary to claim a majority — while Democrats controlled 212, with four seats still in doubt as states continue tallying their votes.class=”footnote-text”>
As the map below illustrates, Republicans notably outperformed the partisan baseline of seats, as measured by FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric, in states like Florida and New York, while Democrats had stronger showings in Colorado and Michigan.class=”footnote-text”> This inconsistent over- and underperformance by each party proved pivotal for the 2022 outcome: It paved the way for a GOP majority while also helping Democrats avoid the sizable losses that often afflict the president’s party in midterm House elections.
Where did each party overperform?
The difference between each House district’s FiveThirtyEight partisan lean and the margin between Republican and Democratic candidates in the 2022 election.
Source: ABC News
Arguably, no two states proved more important to the 2022 House results than Florida and New York. Republicans carried 31 of the 54 seats in these two states, a net gain of seven from where the parties stood entering the election.class=”footnote-text”> As Democrats’ overperformances in other states allowed them to hold onto many seats and pick up others, the GOP’s gains in these two states are arguably responsible for the party’s majority in the House.
Across both states, Republicans outperformed the partisan baseline in almost every district. Critically, this included 21 of the 22 seats that have a partisan lean somewhere between 15 percentage points more Democratic or Republican than the country as a whole — the seats where one party’s overperformance would be most likely to precipitate a shift in party control.
Where Republicans did well
The partisan lean and vote margin in the 2022 election for competitive districts (partisan lean between D+15 and R+15) in Florida and New York
Source: ABC News
These strong showings reflected the larger trends in both states. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection by 19 points, while GOP Sen. Marco Rubio won by 16 points. Their performance in South Florida may have also helped Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Gimenez achieve the largest overperformances of any candidates in the House races we examined (although Diaz-Balart has long been a dynamo when it comes to easily winning elections). And in New York, a state with a partisan lean of D+20, Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin ran behind Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul by 6 points (although that’ll likely grow a bit more with many New York City ballots still being counted). These impressive Republican campaigns are attributable to multiple factors, such as DeSantis’s solid approval rating in Florida as well as frustration with crime rates among some New York voters, but the same trends trickled down to these House races, too.
Both states also had high-profile redistricting battles that, in the end, likely helped these Republican vote swings come close to maximizing GOP House gains in each state. DeSantis pressed for a map that was significantly biased toward the GOP, turning a number of purple seats into red ones and dismantling a seat that had previously elected a Black Democrat. In New York, Democrats drew and passed their own biased map, but the state’s high court overturned those lines and had a special master draw a new map that featured more highly competitive and GOP-leaning seats. Considering the tight margins in some districts, especially those north of New York City, the court-ordered map likely helped Republicans win as many as three more seats than they would have under the lines drawn by the Democratic state Legislature. That being said, the GOP’s strong performance on Long Island likely would have flipped two Democratic-held districts anyway.
Elsewhere, some states saw their House districts swing to the left compared to their partisan baseline. Democrats didn’t have any states where they gained three or more seats, but their strong performances in Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington helped them hold on to many highly competitive districts while even picking up a couple of seats. Overall, there are 21 districts in those four states with a partisan lean between D+15 and R+15. Democrats outperformed in 18 of those seats and won 15 of them, compared with the six the GOP carried.
Where Democrats did well
The partisan lean and vote margin in the 2022 election for competitive districts (partisan lean between D+15 and R+15) in Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington
Source: ABC News
In other states, strong Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket (and/or ballot measures favorable to Democrats) helped form a blue seawall that limited Republican gains in toss-up races across the country. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won by a bit more than 10 points, and voters handily approved a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights. Down ballot, this likely helped Democratic incumbents retain two purple seats — Michigan’s 7th and 8th districts — and flip the 3rd District. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, Democrats’ blowout win in the gubernatorial race and pivotal victory in an open-seat Senate contest surely lifted most Democratic boats in the House, helping the party retain control of the state’s highly competitive 7th, 8th and 17th districts. And other blue-leaning states saw mini-waves of their own. In Colorado, Democrats swept the statewide races, which no doubt helped Democrats pick up the newly created 8th District and come close to toppling Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert. And in Washington, Democrats easily held the Senate seat, retained the swingy 8th District and even picked up the R+9 3rd District, one of the biggest upsets of the cycle.
Democratic wins in Michigan’s 3rd District and Washington’s 3rd District also showcased how some GOP contenders endorsed by former President Donald Trump underperformed. In August primaries, the Republican candidates in both seats dispatched GOP incumbents who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But in the general election, the GOP insurgents proved unattractive to voters, as the Democratic candidates in each race outperformed the partisan baseline by a whopping 10 points or so.
These crosscurrents showed up within states, too, as some states saw inconsistent trends across districts. Take Ohio, where Democrats gained one seat but outperformed their baseline in only a little less than half of the races we looked at. The largest overperformance for Democrats in the whole country came in Ohio’s 9th District. Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in the history of the House, defeated Republican J.R. Majewski, who attended the Jan. 6 rally and reportedly misrepresented his military service record. Meanwhile, in Texas, each party outperformed the partisan lean in most districts they already controlled. But in South Texas, Republicans showed some continued progress after their 2020 improvement in that region, as their candidates outperformed the partisan lean baseline in the heavily Latino 15th and 34th districts — although they won only the former.
With contrasting red waves and blue riptides striking different parts of the country, the House results varied widely when compared to each district’s partisan baseline. Perhaps appropriately, then, these crosscurrents made 2022 the first midterm in 20 years that couldn’t be readily described as a “wave” election for the party that doesn’t control the White House.