The media, not the polls, have failed to predict Democrat victory in the 2022 midterm elections

In the months leading up to the midterms, many pundits and politicians thought Republicans had enough momentum for big gains at the state and federal levels, enough to be considered a “red wave.” But veteran Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg is one of the few voices in Washington who has remained optimistic about the party’s prospects, despite President Joe Biden’s slipping approval ratings and polls showing Democrats defending inflation, and who ultimately passed a strong performance was confirmed.

Rosenberg — who previously advised the Democratic campaign committee and is president of progressive think tank NDN — says he’s not in the prediction business. But he thought the available data consistently pointed to a competitive election, and he became a self-proclaimed “info warrior” on Twitter, trying to convince the pundits class to do so. He believes that unlike in 2016 and 2020, when the polls failed to register Trump’s strength as a candidate, this time it was the media analyzing the polls that got it wrong.

“There’s been a massive media failure in this cycle,” he said. “The mistake that just happened is more serious than the election mistake [in 2020] because there have been a lot of really smart people who have basically misled tens of millions of people over the past few weeks with their political comments.”

It’s hard to say whether the doomsday stories about the Democrats had any practical effect in the months leading up to the election – whether they stifled turnout by demoralizing voters, or motivated them to turn up because they feared what would happen, if they did. t. But even if a negative effect was small, it could have had a big impact.

“My own view is that it probably cost us net. It could have cost us the house,” Rosenberg said.

Here’s what he thinks went wrong.

Real election results were not given enough credibility compared to polls

Rosenberg argues that Republicans have made a big mistake running toward Trumpism since November 2021, when he first challenged the notion that there would be a runaway red wave in the midterms.

That hypothesis gained a broader following over the summer amid backlash over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it Roe v. calf. But there was a marked shift in sentiment in the fall, as Democrats’ margins on general ballots narrowed and they showed relative weakness in polls on issues like the economy and crime. That seemed like a sign of outrage roe had slacked and the Republicans had the advantage.

Rosenberg doesn’t think that was ever the case and that the available data showed an election that favored Democrats in the Senate and won the House of Representatives. The actual election results provided the clearest indication.

“Real votes are more important than polls,” Rosenberg said. “The way you interpret an election is how people vote.”

Republicans had focused on a policy that had just been rejected by the American people twice, in 2020 and 2018. And a series of special elections held over the summer showed a similar pattern, with Democrats significantly outperforming in Nebraska’s home races. Alaska, Minnesota and New York. In Nebraska’s First District, for example, the Democrat lost less than 6 percentage points, compared to more than 20 percentage points in 2020. And Democrats won a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives for the first time in half a century, defeating former Gov. Sarah Palin.

In August, voters in deep-red Kansas also turned out in charged numbers to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed state legislatures to further restrict access to abortion after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it roe.

All of this supported the notion that Democrat enthusiasm was growing and that this was no normal midterm election, even as the polls narrowed and Biden’s approval rating was still underwater.

“People should have started adjusting their understanding of the election at that point. They didn’t – they stuck with the old models. They were confused by the Red Wave narrative,” Rosenberg said.

Polls were misinterpreted

When poll averages fell in the fall, it was partly because party polls commissioned by Republican organizations brought them down for Democrats. Rosenberg was among the first to identify the phenomenon, which he described as “an unprecedented campaign by Republicans to swamp polling averages over the past month to create this red-wave impression.”

If you look at poll averages that include Republican polls, “you’re looking at a completely different election than we are,” he added.

When Rosenberg abolished partisan voting, he foresaw an election with New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania leaning toward Democrats, Nevada too close to vote, and Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin a little toward Republicans tended. That is consistent with what actually happened.

It’s not clear if the onslaught of partisan polls was a deliberate attempt by Republicans to change the narrative of the election and dampen Democrat enthusiasm. But it may have had an outsized impact on averages this year due to a lack of public independent polling. As Politico pointed out, big players like NBC News didn’t commission state midterm polls this year, and the New York Times did so in only four individual house races and five states — far fewer than the number it previously commissioned had.

The media is also over-reliant on issue polls, which can be misleading if you just look at aggregate numbers across all parties, Rosenberg said. Crime and immigration were among voters’ top issues overall because they are high priority issues for Republicans. But when Democrats tried to challenge their own constituents, they had to focus on the issues they care about.

In general, it is also difficult to analyze issue polling. Voters may say they care deeply about a range of issues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any of them will influence their decision to vote for a particular candidate, or to vote at all.

“That confidence in the most important issue of all voters played a role in Republican talking points,” Rosenberg said.

The enduring importance of roe was underestimated

The anti-abortion movement lost a lot of time in 2022: pro-abortion rights Democrats all but swept the table, and every ballot initiative aimed at restricting abortion was lost, while ballot initiatives to strengthen abortion rights prevailed, and in some cases even outperformed Democratic candidates.

While we shouldn’t put too much stock in exit poll data, which is incomplete at this point, the KFF analysis of the AP VoteCast poll found the Supreme Court decision overturned roe had a “major impact” on whether about four in 10 Americans decided to vote this year and that it activated key constituencies for Democrats, including Black and Hispanic women under 50, voters under 30 overall, and first-time voters. This is consistent with strong postroe Voter Registration Numbers: The number of women registered to vote rose 35 percent in 10 states in the month after the decision.

As my colleague Rachel Cohen wrote, Republicans and their base are struggling with how crucial Roe’s downfall and their subsequent efforts to curb abortion rights have proved in this election. And that seemed to seep into media coverage, with many media outlets forecasting ahead of Election Day that abortion had receded from the limelight in favor of inflation, an issue Republicans thought they had the edge on.

“The abortion rights debate has not turned out to be a political silver bullet for the Democrats,” the New York Times declared Nov. 4.

Rosenberg speculates that male political commentators were particularly receptive to the Republican narrative on this front.

“I think they weren’t sympathetic to the idea that abortion was really going to be one of the two or three things that drove the election,” he said.

But the evidence has always been in the polls: Interest in abortion has not declined over time and has actually increased among Democrats in several tracking polls. And Rosenberg believes its importance won’t wane anytime soon.

“This could put a millstone around the neck of the Republican Party — not just in this election but in many elections to come, and potentially alienate an entire generation of young people,” he said.

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