On polls, Hispanics, and the suburbs
In much of the country, the Republican Party fell well short of expectations in the 2022 midterms. Flawed GOP nominees in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Arizona lost winnable races for U.S. Senate, thus consigning their party to another two years in the minority. Democrats lost their U.S. House majority but only by a sliver of seats. At the state level, Democrats netted two governorships while Republicans lost control of at least five legislative chambers — the Pennsylvania House, the Minnesota Senate, both chambers in Michigan, and the Alaska Senate, where a coalition of Democrats and dissident Republicans will take over.
In our state, however, the Republican Party fared far better. Its candidates secured a veto-proof 30-seat supermajority in the North Carolina Senate and a 71-49 majority in the House (one seat shy of a supermajority, though on some issues there will likely be enough votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto). Ted Budd won the open U.S. Senate seat. Republicans won all six appellate-court races, flipping the partisan balance on the state supreme court. The party also appears to have increased its share of county commissioners, sheriffs, and school-board members.
North Carolina wasn’t the only state where the election results diverged from the national trend. Republicans in Florida and Iowa, for example, also achieved impressive successes in 2022. The extent to which American politics has been thoroughly nationalized was exaggerated. So was the disappearance of split-ticket voters (who revealed themselves in large numbers in places like Ohio and New Hampshire). Candidate quality, issue selection, and the incumbent party’s performance in office still matter a lot.
In the weeks since the election, I’ve been compiling data and listening to thoughtful analysts on both sides of the aisle. Here are some points worth pondering:
• That Hispanics are increasingly up for grabs in competitive elections is no myth. According to exit polls, Democratic candidates for Congress attracted 69% of self-described Hispanic voters in 2018 while Republicans won 29%. In 2022, the Democrats’ margin shrunk by nearly half, to 60%-39%. Here in North Carolina, the CNN exit poll estimated that Cheri Beasley won just 52% of Hispanics. The Associated Press VoteCast survey pegged her share at 56%.
Yes, I know exit polls can be fuzzy. But district-level analysis of vote totals appears to confirm the trend. When American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Philip Wallach grouped competitive U.S. House districts by ethnic composition, he found that Republicans tended to fare better in 2022 in places where Hispanics make up a larger share of the electorate.
• As I have argued on numerous occasions, framing political contests or issues in terms of urban interests vs. rural interests is inaccurate. It glosses over the largest bloc of voters: suburbanites. It’s true that these terms lack consistent definitions. The “inner suburbs” of northern Mecklenburg County are rather different from the “outer suburbs” of Guilford County, the “exurbs” of Harnett County, or the suburban outskirts of smaller cities from the mountains to the coast. But if you identify your community as suburban, that means at least that you don’t think of yourself as urban or rural, and are unlikely to respond favorably to attempts to jam you into either category.
In the 2022 exit poll, 46% of North Carolina voters described their community as suburban, with 30% saying urban and 24% rural. Budd won the suburban vote by 11 points. By contrast, Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly edged out his Republican challenger among suburban voters. So did the Democratic candidates in Nevada and New Hampshire, while GOP Senate candidates in Georgia and Pennsylvania won their suburbs by margins far too narrow to overcome their big losses in urban counties.
• Finally, pre-election polls were generally more accurate in 2022 than in past election cycles. But which publicly released poll proved most predictive of the Senate result in North Carolina? The John Locke Foundation’s own Civitas Poll, which had Budd leading Beasley by 3.8 points. He won by 3.2 points.
John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history.