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2022 Midterm Election Outlook

Though the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections remains uncertain, the odds of the Democrats retaining majorities in both the House and Senate are very slim. The lame duck session is expected to be the Democrats’ last best chance to get priority items passed before 2024.

Congress will look quite different come next year and all seven of the Senators who are retiring this term (six Republicans and one Democrat) hold top committee leadership positions. No matter which party has control of the Senate in 2023, there will be a big shuffle and some new faces at the top of key committees including the Appropriations Committee where both the Chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and the Ranking Member, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), are both retiring. Similar shake ups are also expected in the House.

Historically a president’s party will lose seats in their first midterm and the general consensus is that the Republicans will win control of the House in November.  In the New Year, Republican leadership may find themselves working with a narrow majority and trying to balance the ideological spectrum of their members. The bigger question for November is whether the Democrats will be able to retain their hold on the Senate, making a split Congress (with Republicans taking the House and Democrats holding the Senate) more likely than originally anticipated.

The Republican Party platform has been focused on the economy, crime and border security, while Democrats are running on their recent legislative accomplishments and health care (including abortion rights). While inflation remains a big focus, abortion has been the biggest wildcard of this election year.  NBC News’ latest polling found that 61% of respondents are opposed to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Much to the chagrin of many Republicans, last week Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation to create a nationwide ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (with a provison that if a state has a more restrictive policy it can keep it), which further casts abortion as a key issue this November. It remains to be seen how much the issue of abortion will drive turnout and voter preferences in key races and whether abortion will be able to surpass the economy as the critical issue for swing voters.

An additional factor mixing things up this election season will be the impact of the January 6 commission with a growing number of polls showing that Americans are concerned about, and focused on, preserving the basic principles of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power.

The Republicans’ efforts to retake the Senate are also hindered by the simple math and map of this year’s elections. There will be thirty-five Senate seats up for election this year; twenty-one (or 60%) of which are held by Republicans. Of the thirty-five races, the number of seats truly in contest remain in the single digits.  With the Senate split 50/50 and Vice President Harris casting the tie breaking vote, the Republicans only need a net pick up of one seat to take the majority.  Either way, whichever party holds the Senate next year, it will be by narrow margins.

There is plenty of time for an October surprise that could upend one or all of these races. We will be continuing to monitor the electoral landscape and to prepare for the flurry of activity that may occur during lame duck.