Republicans expected a red wave of voter support in the 2020 midterm election. How to explain the bloodbath they suffered instead?

Arguably, the GOP saw favorable results. Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives. They may still win control of the Senate pending a runoff.

At the state level, voters handed Republican governors decisive victories in Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

It’s the official story of the 2022 elections. Republicans won the necessary races.

Unofficially, the Republicans failed. Americans didn’t respond to a bad economy by voting out the incumbent party. It was, at least, a bloodbath of expectations.

After all, the minority party historically wins Congressional seats during a midterm election. Republicans knew they would gain a few just by showing up.

They expected much more. US inflation hit its highest mark in 40 years. Gas prices are at record highs. The economy is arguably in shambles. The Democrats’ green energy policy, for example, forbids new drilling. As a result, energy prices have skyrocketed. The Democrats have no long-term plan to fix the problem. We’re told to wait.

Still, Democrats won a majority of the House races labeled as “toss-ups.” They flipped nine seats, most notably in Alaska which hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1972.

Even the most unpopular Democrat governors, those who oversaw harsh pandemic lockdowns and strict vaccine mandates, won re-election handily. In Oregon, the nation’s most disliked governor was able to handpick a successor.

Does it make sense?

The assumption about a red wave was based on a traditional idea. Political experts often predicted who would win by the kitchen table issues of the middle class. The issues talked about, and worried over, while eating dinner were of primary importance to a nuclear family. These include the economy, law and order, and education.

If Americans had voted the kitchen table issues, Republicans should have seen a red wave. Instead, in a bad economy, voters focused on abortion, even in states where abortion continues to be legal. Voters in Pennsylvania chose a pro-choice senator who suffers from stroke-related health problems. Abortion drew many to vote Democrat.

If we’re seeing a trend away from kitchen table issues, it would only make sense. There are fewer kitchen tables in American homes.

The numbers tell the story we’ve all seen anecdotally. Marriage hit an all-time low in 2018. US birth rates have fallen 20% since 2007.

Today’s voter is more likely to be living alone. The stability that Americans once sought as part of a nuclear family has given way to personal flexibility. Many voters have accepted living with less, not owning a home, and not saving much money. They view autonomy as the highest societal good. Financial interests are down the list. 

Instead of kitchen table issues, another political bellwether may be in play. College dorm room issues may now be driving US elections.

This blog post first appeared at The Deleterious.

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