Republicans may be surprised by the 2022 midterms

There’s a problem when you are ruled by a minority. Unless they are careful in the exercise of their power, you can expect a boomerang effect.

We saw it, or at least a “boom”, in Tuesday’s primary election in Kansas. It included a ballot question on whether to amend the state’s constitution to prohibit abortions. Kansas is unusual in that it’s written into their constitution. Nearly sixty percent of voters in Kansas said no.

In 2020 and 2016, Trump won the state with 56% of the vote. Registered Republicans have a 46%-26% lead in voter registrations over Democrats in the state. Turnout in what was supposed to be a sleepy election in August was huge. It’s quite clear that a significant minority of Republicans voted to keep their abortion rights.

Generally, Republicans have no problem passing laws that stick it to minorities. But Kansas is 86% white, which means that the principal victims of tighter abortion laws in the state would be white women. The vote was supposed to be close, but it was a blowout.

Kansas’s situation is unusual, which is why since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, heavily gerrymandered Republican states have had few qualms about creating draconian antiabortion laws. I can understand why they would feel entitled. In its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court has said that unlimited money can be spent on campaigns, and most rich people tend to be conservative. This allowed them to gerrymander their legislatures so they never lose power, making it hard or impossible for incumbents to lose elections. The Supreme Court seems likely to take up a case in its next term to harden the cement, so to speak. A number of members of the court have already spoken up supporting the idea being tested in North Carolina that its supreme court can’t overrule state election laws that don’t conform to the state’s constitution.

Republicans are hoping the 2022 midterms not only let them regain control of Congress, but also control state secretaries of state, who oversee and certify elections. They will find it convenient to overturn the will of the electorate when federal elections don’t go their way. Fortunately, we’re not quite there yet. And if this national disgust at the Supreme Court’s Dobbs abortion decision can be held for another three months, their goal of controlling Congress again might slip too.

Increasingly, it looks like they’ve already lost the Senate. This is in part because they are nominating candidates endorsed by Donald Trump. Consequently you get a series of really awful candidates that will be loved by Trumpers, but not by the general electorate. Democrats have a slim four seat majority in the House. Most experts who have studied redistricting have determined that overall recent gerrymandering is unlikely to render more Republican seats. Democrats may have a small advantage. We won’t know until the results come in, of course, but motivated voters tend to vote disproportionately. Hence the Kansas blowout.

History tells us that the 2022 midterms should be very bad for Democrats. Recent inflation statistics and gas prices should make it an easy year for Republicans to wrest legislative control again. But gas prices are down about $1/gallon from their peak. Inflation should ease with lower energy prices. And with just three months to go until the midterms, what’s happening now will set the frame for most voters.

In the short term, the only thing that will keep abortion laws in check will be federal legislation codifying the right to an abortion. Since 53 percent of voters are women, and women bear the primary impact of tightening antiabortion laws, they are going to be plenty of motivated women voters. Moreover, it’s simply a myth that Americans are antiabortion. 71% of Americans support women having the right to terminate a pregnancy. Only briefly over the decades has polling on this question slipped below 50%. Generally, it’s been popular by double digits. By some polling, abortion rights is the number two issue motivating voters, with only a receding inflation concern ahead of it.

We can expect voter enthusiasm to be high this time, not just from Democrats, but especially from Democrats. Assuming our election system isn’t so corrupted by voter suppression and corrupt election officials, there is probably a 70% chance that Democrats can maintain the U.S. Senate and perhaps a 55% chance they can retain the House.

All this is being helped by a series of popular bills passed by Democrats that looked unlikely just six months ago. There are more on the way, including the Inflation Reduction Act which among other things allows the government to negotiate pricing for certain Medicare drugs, a hugely popular proposal supported by even a majority of Republicans.

Such an election outcome would be highly unusual. It’s generally a safe bet to assume the party in power will lose it, but this is not a normal election year. It may be that checking the Supreme Court and Republican overreach may be what voters care most about. It may turn out to be not only the most consequential election of our time, but with turnout rivaling that in a presidential election year and an utter surprise to many political prognosticators.

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