Just six months ago, national Republicans were in a tremendous position to achieve robust gains in the House and the Senate in this upcoming election cycle. First and foremost, many Republicans considered it all but certain that they would flip the House and Senate in 2022, given their comfortable lead in generic ballot polling and President Joe Biden’s underwater approval rating. Glenn Youngkin won an electrifying victory for the GOP in Virginia in November 2021 and primary turnout in Texas indicated a “red wave” election for the party. Especially given that Republicans historically gained strength throughout the summer and fall of midterm years during the Obama administration, many astute analysts began looking past 2022 to see how a Republican blowout would change the scope of the nation’s politics later this decade. Several pieces began circulating on social media (including this extremely well-done piece published on SlowBoring and another informative article written by our colleagues at Elections Daily) investigating Republican chances to win a supermajority of seats in the Senate in the 2024 general elections. And the chance of a Republican supermajority was very real; modeling estimated that just 6 months ago, Republicans held a ~25% chance of winning a supermajority in 2024.
Now, just over a month before Election Day, modeling approximates that Republicans have seen their chances of winning a supermajority in 2024 decline to just ~6%. Of course, the nightmare scenario for Republicans in the 2022 midterms, failing to flip the Senate, is (at least according to quantitative forecasts) likely to occur. But given that Republican Senate candidates have now considerably outperformed polling expectations for three cycles in a row, it would be foolish to discount the chance this happens again. Republicans still have a realistic chance to enjoy a “successful” midterm, taking control of the House and Senate while flipping control of several Governor’s mansions across the country. Of course, a slim Senate majority for Republicans would pale in comparison to being on the brink of a supermajority, but the GOP does not seem to be overly concerned with chasing historic electoral domination.
Democrats Are Likely to Suffer Crippling Senate Losses in 2024
In order to analyze the 2022 midterms, it is important to understand the brutal Senate map Democrats will have to defend in 2024. Democrats have long relied on split-ticket voters to power Senate victories in red states. These voters are vanishing as Americans become more and more likely to support the same party down-ballot as they do at the top of the ticket. The Senate’s bias towards Republicans is not anything especially new, but the walls could be about to close in on Democrats once and for all (the partisan lean of the median Senate seat lies about 2-3% to the right of the nation as a whole). Democratic Senate nominees were still able to dominate the 2018 midterms through the last remnants of cross-party voting, but now they will have to defend their strong showing six years later. Democrats have no real pickup opportunities but have to defend seats in 8 different states to the right of the nation. Trump carried three of these states (Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia) by wide margins in 2020, meaning that the Democratic incumbents will be sure to lose unless split-ticket voting trends in presidential years somehow revert to pre-2016 levels.
Even assuming a D+1 median national political environment in 2024, our modeling indicates that Democrats should expect to lose an average of ~5 seats. This type of landslide would not leave the control of the Senate after 2024 in doubt, with Republicans set to win the chamber easily.
Pay Close Attention to Senate Margin in 2022
Given that Republicans have seen their position weaken to the point where they are now underdogs in the Senate, the majority of media attention will be focused on which party wins overall control of the legislative chambers. If Republicans manage to sneak out a 51-49 victory in the Senate, however, Democrats can enjoy a consolation prize: the GOP will have next to no chance to win a supermajority of seats in 2024. Six months ago, Democratic analysts would have seen a 51-49 split as a massive success—sacrificing short-term control of the chamber to decrease the chance of a Republican supermajority from a ~25% chance to a ~1% chance. Now, priors regarding midterm results have adjusted so heavily that Republicans will see flipping the Senate as a positive surprise and a rousing success, especially in spite of the electoral backlash caused by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,
For the chances of a 2024 GOP supermajority to increase after the 2022 midterms, Republicans must net a gain of three seats. An outcome this successful for Republicans will be a tough ask—DecisionDeskHQ’s current midterm forecast only gives Republicans a ~7% chance of winning 53 seats and a ~8% chance of winning 54 or more. But given the past problems with polling and quantitative forecasts, the GOP could still feasibly net large gains, bringing a 2024 Senate supermajority back into play.
Will Republicans Ever See Massive Electoral Wins Come to Fruition?
Republicans have already enjoyed three election cycles of an extreme electoral bias in the Senate in an era with very little ticket-splitting and have very little to show for it. In the 2016 Presidential Election, for example, Donald Trump lost the national popular vote but still won 30 states, enough to achieve a Senate supermajority. Four years later, Democrats still hold slim control of the chamber. This spring, it finally seemed like the GOP would break through in the Senate and flip seats in several states narrowly won by Biden in 2020. What changed for the GOP? The Supreme Court’s decision in Jackson v. Dobbs ended decades of precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade, increasing the salience of abortion (a generally good policy issue for Democrats). American voters tend to be very fickle, generally voting against the party in charge. Unsurprisingly, a generally unpopular decision by a Republican-appointed court hurt the party’s standing in generic ballot polling. This decision (handed down by Republican-appointed judges) reminds voters of a time when Republicans held power, distracting from the Biden Administration.
Political pundits, most notably the team at FiveThirtyEight, have long argued that the Republican Party does not operate with the goal of maximizing its electoral effectiveness but rather uses its structural advantages to pursue policy significantly to the right of the median American voter and still remain competitive in elections. Republicans consistently operate with utter scorn for “popularism” and certainly pay the price for it electorally. Through this lens, a relatively poor 2022 midterm performance no longer looks like a failure for Republicans but rather a trade-off where conservatives successfully implement measures prioritized by their base (overturning Roe v. Wade) instead of strictly maximizing their electoral success. Rather than using their structural advantages to win crushing electoral victories, Republicans continue to ignore “popularist” theory and implement policies prioritized by their base while remaining competitive in elections. And this makes sense because it is what politics is ultimately about: implementing policy, not just winning elections.
The author estimated the chances of a 2024 Republican Supermajority through 40,000 Monte Carlo simulations of the 2022 and 2024 senate elections. In March, the model assumes a median R+6 national political environment in 2022 and a median environment of D+1 in 2024. In September, the model assumes a median R+2 environment in 2022 and a median environment of D+1 in 2024. The model’s forecasts are determined using a combination of polling, past election results, and incumbency.