It has been more than a year since I first addressed the 2022 elections for the United States House of Representatives (“House”) and Senate (“Senate”), as well as for governor. In June 2021, the political outlook was dire for Democrats, as I concluded it was extremely likely they would lose their majority in the House, control of the Senate balanced on a knife’s edge, and simply not losing any net governor’s mansions would count as a victory.
Wow…what a difference a year makes.
Because on Labor Day 2022, the traditional start of the final stretch of the campaign season, it is now the Republicans who find themselves in dire political straits – at least in Senate and gubernatorial elections. These sentences I wrote on June 16, 2021 proved quite prophetic:
“…Democrats have no open seats, while Republicans have at least six, which historically signals Democratic strength. And Democratic candidate recruitment has strongly outclassed that of Republicans – who would apparently rather fight proxy Trump-McConnell battles than nominate strong candidates.”
I referred specifically to the 34 Senate elections – now 35, with Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe retiring in January 2023, but I could also have been referring to the 36 gubernatorial elections. Democrats have fewer open governor’s mansions (three) as Republicans (five), but while it is more likely than not Democrats will successfully defend all three (Hawaii, Oregon, Pennsylvania), Republicans are a near-lock to lose two (Maryland, Massachusetts) and no better than tied in a third (Arizona). The battles between former president Donald J. Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have morphed into a very public battle between McConnell and Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott, chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee over “candidate quality.”
Let us now review each set of elections.
The House. I leave it to the smart folks at FiveThirtyEight.com and Cook Political Report (“Cook”) to assess individually all 435 House elections in 2022. My purpose here is to use generic ballot polls – asking if voters prefer Democrats, Republicans or someone else in their district – to estimate both how many House seats Democrats will lose and how likely it is they will lose their House majority. This assessment is based upon the number of seats held by each party (222 Democrats, 213 Republicans) following the 2020 elections; using this baseline, Republicans need a net gain of five seats to regain the House majority.
My model is straightforward: the number of House seats net won/lost by Democrats is proportional to the change in the Democratic margin (Democratic percentage minus Republican percentage of all House votes cast nationwide), as shown in Figure 1:
Figure 1: Change in Democratic Margin vs. Change in Democratic House Seats, 1970-2020
On average, every one percentage point (“point”) decrease in Democratic margin results in a loss of 3.2 Democratic House seats. The Democratic margin was 3.1% in 2020, so Democrats need a margin of at least 2.0% to maintain control.
According to my weighted-adjusted polling average (WAPA), Republicans currently lead on the generic ballot by 0.6 points, which implies a loss of 12.7 seats, assuming undecided voters break evenly between Democratic and Republican candidates. However, as Figure 2, suggests, after bottoming out in early April 2022, Democrats have rapidly improved their position on the generic ballot: based just on the last 10 polls, Democrats lead by 0.7 points – with the potential to climb higher. This latter value implies a Republican gain of “only” 8.6 seats, giving Democrats at least a fighting chance.
Figure 2: 10-poll trends in Democratic generic ballot margin
But how much of a chance, precisely?
To answer this question, I estimated what you might call a “predictive margin of error.” I re-estimated the ordinary least squares regression model 26 times, each time excluding data from the election year I wanted to “predict.” For example, to estimate Democratic seat gain/loss in 1988, I estimated the model using data from 1970 to 1986 and from 1990 to 2000. According to this model, Democrats should have lost 5.2 House seats, while they actually gained two seats, a difference of -7.2 seats. Across all 26 House election years, the average “miss” was 0.3 seats, ranging from -16.3 in 2003 to 20.1 in 1996; the standard deviation was 10.9. From these values (and assuming outcomes are distributed normally), I can calculate the probability, given a hypothetical Democratic margin, Democrats lose no more than four seats (or even gain seats) – that is, the probability Democrats retain their House majority.
As of Labor Day 2022, I estimate the probability Democrats retain a House majority is 20.3%. The 95% confidence interval on seats won/lost is -34.4 to +8.3, centering on Democrats controlling 209 or 210 seats.
If Democrats win the national House by 0.7 points, as polls conducted since mid-July 2022 suggest, the probability increases to 32.6%. The 95% confidence interval on seats won/lost rises to -30.2 to +12.4, centering on Democrats controlling 213 or 214 seats.
In order for Democrats to be the nominal favorites to retain House control (p>50%), they need to win nationally by at least 2.3 points.
These probability and seat estimates are well in line with those from FiveThirtyEight and Cook. The former ranges between 25% (Deluxe) and 37% (Classic), with 211 seats assigned >50% probability of being won by the Democrat (one other seat – CA27 – is precisely 50-50). Cook currently has 190 seats at least leaning Democratic, with 32 designated “Toss-Up.” Split evenly, that gives Democrats 206 seats, though with a reasonable chance to win 222.
Bottom line: Republican control of the House, albeit narrow, remains very likely.
The Senate. As of Labor Day 2022, Democrats have 48 Senate seats and Republicans have 50 Senate seats, with two seats held by Independents (Angus King of Maine, Bernie Sanders of Vermont) who caucus with Democrats. This effective 50-50 is broken by Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris, giving Democrats the slimmest possible majority.
In June 2021, Republicans appeared poised to net easily the single Senate seat necessary for the majority, if not more. That, however, is no longer the case. In fact, Democrats are now poised to add to their majority, as Table 1 shows.
Table 1: Democratic Senate win probabilities and projected final margins, 2022
|State||Fundamentals||Polling (WAPA)||Poll Wt||Final Projection|
|Democratic seat||Margin||P(D win)||Margin||P(D win)||Margin||P(D win)|
|Estimated Democratic seats lost = 0.8 (range = 0.4 to 2.1)*|
|Estimated Republican seats lost = 2.7 (range = 1.7 to 4.0)|
|Overall expected Democratic seats gained/lost = +1.9 (range = -0.5 to +3.5)|
*Adding or subtracting 3 points to all WAPA, including generic ballot estimates
Before examining the key races, here are some technical notes.
Italics indicate open seats, while boldface indicates a likely “flip.” “Fundamentals” refers to the sum of state’s partisan lean (3W-RDM), current generic ballot estimate (-0.6) and incumbency advantage (5.5 points for Democrats, 3.3 points for Republicans); I assign one-third incumbency to advantage to Democrats Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia because they first won their seats in 2020 special elections. Essentially, this is what one would expect the Democratic margin to be for a generic Democratic vs. a generic Republican. The “fundamentals” probability the Democratic candidate wins is the likelihood of a Democratic margin of ≥0.0000001 given a normal distribution, with mean of projected margin (+1.3 for mean historic “miss”) and standard deviation of 10.7. Despite improvement on the generic ballot, “on paper,” Kelly and Warnock are in trouble, while Democratic incumbents in New Hampshire and Nevada could have a real fight. On the flip side, the open Republican seat in Pennsylvania – vacated after two terms by Pat Toomey – would be close to a toss-up, albeit with the Republican candidate slightly favored.
It is now time to update these “priors” with polling data. Since November 1, 2021, a total of 162 publicly-available polls have been conducted assessing the party’s official nominees in 25 Senate races; of the contested states, only New Hampshire has not yet selected its party nominees, though the Democratic nominee will be incumbent Senator Maggie Hassan and the Republican nominee will most likely be retired United States Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc. This total includes three polls in Alaska, where it is a near-lock one of two Republicans – incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski or former state official Kelly Tshibaka – will win; the current WAPA forecasts Murkowski will win 52.5% to 47.5%. It also includes eight polls from Utah, where incumbent Republican Senator Mike Lee’s primary challenger is Independent Evan McMullin, who is effectively the Democratic nominee (despite McMullin insisting he would caucus with neither party); I sum McMullin and Democratic votes from polls prior to the June 28 primary.
The remaining 151 polls are distributed as follows: Georgia (25); Florida (17); North Carolina, Pennsylvania (15); Nevada (14); Ohio (12); Arizona (8); New Hampshire, Washington (7; Hassan v Bolduc); Colorado, Missouri (5); Iowa, Wisconsin (4); Connecticut, Illinois, New York (2); seven states (1). These numbers demarcate the most competitive races fairly well, though more polling from Wisconsin would be helpful.
I use a slight variation on traditional polling margin of error (“MOE”) to calculate “WAPA win probability.” Assuming a normal distribution with a margin just above 0, I use WAPA as mean while generating a standard error from the total number of respondents across all polls. Thus, the 22,535 total respondents across all 25 Georgia polls assessing Warnock against former National Football League player Herschel Walker result in MOE=0.7. However, to account for other sources of polling error besides random sampling, I multiply each calculated MOE by 2.
Finally, I weight fundamentals and WAPA values (win probability, final margin) to combine them into a single value; their correlation is a very encouraging 0.90, albeit with Democratic candidates polling an average 4.3 points better than fundamentals. I first assign 25% weight to WAPA as of January 1, 2022. WAPA weight increases each day until Election Day, when it will be 100%. I then multiply this weight by a value between 0 and 1 indicating average pollster quality, using data from FiveThirtyEight, where A+ = 4.3, A =4.0, etc.. To accommodate the possibility neither Warnock nor Walker tops 50% on Election Day, I adjust the quality weighting down a bit. On average, as of Labor Day 2022, WAPA is weighted 70%, which seems about right.
Using the final win probabilities, I divide races into:
Safe Republican (<5%)
Solid Republican (≥5 to <10%)
Likely Republican (≥10 to <16.7%)
Lean Republican (≥16.7 to <33.3%)
Toss-up (≥33.3 to ≤66.7%)
Lean Democratic (>66.7to ≤83.3%)
Likely Democratic (>83.3 to ≤90.0%)
Solid Democratic (>90 to ≤95%)
Safe Democratic (>95%)
The difference between “Safe” and “Solid” is not especially illuminating, so let us combine them:
Safe/Solid Republican (n=15): Incumbents John Boozman (AR), Mike Crapo (ID), John Hoeven (ND), John Kennedy (LA), Jim Lankford (OK), Jerry Moran (KS), Rand Paul (KY), Tim Scott (SC) and John Thune (SD) are near-locks to win. Republican nominees Katie Britt, and Markwayne Mullin and Eric Schmitt are also prohibitive favorites to win open seats in Alabama, Oklahoma and Missouri, respectively. Lee is heavily favored – for now – to defeat McMullin in Utah, while I project Murkowski will defeat fellow Alaska Republican Tshibaka. One recent poll in Indiana, meanwhile, shows Todd Young only three points – 6.2 points with historic bias adjustment – ahead of the Democratic mayor of Hammond, Michael McDermott, Jr., but I still project Young to win by at least 10 points.
Likely/Lean Republican? (n=2). Incumbents Chuck Grassley in Iowa and Marco Rubio in Florida face strong challenges from retired United States Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken and House member Val Demings, respectively. Based solely on the fundamentals, Iowa is Likely Republican and Florida is Lean Republican, but polling puts Franken and Demings “only” 7.7 and 5.9 points behind, respectively – albeit Demings improves to -3.3 points using only the five polls conducted in August 2022. Demings could make this race more competitive – and might already have, if body language is any gauge. Grassley, meanwhile, turns 89 years old on September 17 – meaning he could yet stumble due to age. If there are “sleeper” Senate races, it is these two…though caution is warranted.
Toss-ups (n=3) Warnock leads 46.8% to 45.6%, and Walker has been a disaster on the campaign trail. However, Georgia is still a Republican-leaning state (R+6.5), and a runoff appears more likely than not. For these reasons I have this election right on the edge between Toss-up and Lean Democratic.
On the other side are seats being vacated by Republicans Richard Burr of North Carolina (R+5.8) and Rob Portman of Ohio (R+9.8). On paper, these should be easy holds for Republicans. However, Democrats are basically tied in the polls in both states, putting these races on the Lean Republican end of Toss-Up. In North Carolina, former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is within one point of House member Ted Budd – and leads by 1.1 points in seven polls conducted since June 1. Arguably, hers and Demings’ candidacies have been the most positively impacted by the Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturning the Constitutional right to an abortion. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Republican author J.D. Vance is tied with Democratic House member Tim Ryan in public polling at 44.4%. The strong caveat, however, is that only three polls rated at least B+ have been conducted thus far, and they give Vance an adjusted average lead of 3.4 points. Still, Republicans are nervous about first-time candidate Vance’s inability to shake off Ryan.
Lean Democratic (n=1): Luck may finally have run out for two-term Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, recently seen faking a cell phone call to avoid talking to reporters. While the fundamentals put him on the Lean Republican edge of Toss-up, he is down 3.6 points to Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes in four public polls averaging A-. I project Barnes to defeat Johnson by just under three points, a net gain for Democrats.
Likely Democratic (n=4): The other projected Democratic gain is in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman holds an 8.5-point lead over television celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz. While Fetterman’s stroke has complicated this race, it is difficult to see how Oz wins.
That leaves incumbents Hassan of New Hampshire, Kelly of Arizona and Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, each of whom is likely to win reelection over Bolduc, venture capitalist Blake Masters and former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, respectively. Hassan and Cortez-Masto lead in both fundamentals AND polling, while Kelly is polling nearly 12 points ahead of where he “should” be, based upon Arizona’s Republican lean (R+6.5).
Safe/Solid Democratic (n=10): Incumbents Michael Bennet (CO), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Patty Murray (WA), Alex Padilla (CA), Chuck Schumer (NY), Brian Schatz (HI), Chris Van Hollen (MD) and Ron Wyden (OR) are near-locks to win reelection. Murray was effectively reelected on August 2, when she won 52.3% of the vote in an all-candidate primary, well ahead of Republican registered nurse Tiffany Smiley’s 33.6%; all Democrats combined won just under 55% of the vote. Republicans believe they have a shot in Colorado with businessman Joe O’Dea, but even in a great Republican year defeating a popular Democratic incumbent in a D+5.7 state is very difficult. Meanwhile, House member Peter Welch is all-but-certain to win the Vermont Senate seat being vacated by Pat Leahy.
Bottom line: Democrats will almost certainly ADD Senate seats, most likely 1-3.
Governors. As of Labor Day 2022, Republicans hold 28 governor’s mansions. A net gain of three governor’s mansions by Democrats would give both parties 25, giving Democrats at least parity for the first time since 2010. While Democrats were hoping for maintaining the status quo in June 2021, Table 2 suggests parity is now well within reach.
Table 2: Democratic gubernatorial win probabilities and projected final margins, 2022
|State||Fundamentals||Polling (WAPA)||Poll Wt||Final Projection|
|Democratic seat||Margin||P(D win)||Margin||P(D win)||Margin||P(D win)|
|Estimated Democratic seats lost = 2.4 (range = 1.5 to 4.4)*|
|Estimated Republican seats lost = 3.1 (range = 2.6 to 3.7)|
|Overall expected Democratic seats gained/lost = +0.7 (range = -1.8 to +2.2)|
*Adding or subtracting 3 points to all WAPA, including generic ballot estimates
As of Labor Day 2022, WAPA is receiving an average weight of 73%, with Democrats polling average matching the fundamentals (r=0.35); remove Vermont, however, and Democrats are outpolling fundamentals by 2.3 points (r=0.79).
Safe/Solid Republican (n=16): Incumbents Mike DeWine (OH), Mike Dunleavy (AK), Mark Gordon (WY), Kay Ivey (AL), Bill Lee (TN), Henry McMaster (SC), Kristi Noem (SD), Kim Reynolds (IA), Kevin Stitt (OK) and Chris Sununu (NH) are near-locks for reelection. Univerity of Nebraska Board of Regents member Jim Pillen and former White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be the next Republican governors of Nebraska and Arkansas, respectively.
Meanwhile, Democrats Stacey Abrams (GA), Charlie Crist (FL) and Beto O’Rourke (TX) trail incumbent Republican governors Brian Kemp, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, respectively, by an average 6.5 points. While each COULD make up that much ground by election day, it is difficult to see any of them doing so. All three Democrats have run (and lost) statewide within the last eight years, making what them I call “retreads;” such candidacies often do worse the next time around.
Likely/Lean Republican? (n=1). Popular Republican governor Phil Scott will win reelection, despite Vermont’s D+28.9 status.
Toss-ups (n=2): Before her constituents overwhelmingly voted to codify abortion rights in their state constitution, I thought Kansas Democratic governor Laura Kelly would lose to state Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Now, with two public polls – albeit averaging C+/B- – showing the race essentially tied, I am less sure of that. I still project Kelly losing by 3.8 points, but this margin is in very light pencil.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has a narrow 0.8-point lead in public polling, which might just be enough to defeat Republican television personality Kari Lake in the race to succeed retiring two-term Republican governor Doug Ducey.
Lean Democratic (n=5): Incumbents Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Janet Mills of Maine, Steve Sisolak of Nevada and Tim Walz of Minnesota seek reelection after first winning in the Democratic wave year of 2018. They lead in public polling by a mean 2.8 points. However, according to the fundamentals, each should be winning by an average of 10.7 points – suggesting room to improve upon those poll numbers, especially against weak Republican opposition: businessman Tim Michels, former governor Paul LePage, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and former State Senator Scott Jensen, respectively. Still, it is even money one or more of these incumbents – especially Evers and Sisolak – lose.
Oregon’s open governor’s race features Democratic former State House Speaker Tina Kotek, Republican former State House Majority Leader Christine Drazan – and Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator running as an Independent. On paper, Kotek – one of two out lesbians at least somewhat favored to win a governor’s race (the other is running in Massachusetts) – should be ahead by 9.5 points. But Johnson averages 24.3 points in the three public polls, albeit none since late June and with only a B- average. All things considered, though, Kotek should win this race by high single digits.
Likely Democratic (n=3): Democratic Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee of Rhode Island ascended to governor when Gina Raimondo became Secretary of Commerce in March 2019. He is currently locked in a close battle for renomination against Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. Whoever prevails, however, is strongly favored to win over a yet-to-be-determined Republican. In fact, the only thing keeping this race out of the Safe/Solid category is a lack of public polling.
Meanwhile, Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania is only in this category because the fundamentals suggest he should be losing to Republican state senator Doug Mastriano by about three points; instead, he leads in the polling by 7.4 points.
By contrast, while New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham leads in public polling by 3.6 points, this is a 12.5-point underperformance relative to her fundamentals. Still, this should be enough to defeat Republican former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti by 4.8 points.
Safe/Solid Democratic (n=9): Incumbents Kathy Hochul (NY), Ned Lamont (CT), Gavin Newsom (CA), Jared Polis (CO), J.B. Pritzker (IL) and Gretchen Whitmer (MI) are near-locks for reelection, while Democratic Lieutenant Governor Joshua Green will almost certainly be the next governor of Hawaii.
And, finally, we have two states all-but-certain to replace popular retiring two-term Republican governors with Democrats. Massachusetts is poised to elevate state Attorney General Maura Healey to the corner office on Beacon Hill, likely by more than 25 points. There is no public polling in Maryland, but the fundamentals give former United States Army Captain Wes Moore a better than 91% chance to be its next governor.
Bottom line: There will almost certainly be more Democratic governors, most likely 1-3.
While Democrats find themselves in very good position right now – poised to gain anywhere from one to four Senate seats and from one to three governor’s mansions while limiting losses in the House to ~10 seats – it would only take a not-historically-unusual polling miss of four points in Republicans’ favor to wipe away these gains. In this scenario, Democrats still flip Pennsylvania, while losing in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin – and possibly New Hampshire – for a net loss of one or two seats and control of the Senate. Democrats would still win back governor’s mansions in Maryland and Massachusetts, while losing in Kansas and Arizona – and in any or all of the five Lean Democratic states, most likely Wisconsin and Nevada – for a net loss of one to four seats. And the likelihood of retaining House control would drop to 2.3%, centered around a loss of 26 seats.
Actually, this is what would happen if undecideds broke 2-1 Republican across the board, which is in line with happens historically in midterm elections. That being said…if the Kansas abortion vote and upset Democratic victories in recent special House elections in Alaska and New York are any indication, once could make a strong argument polling is systematically underestimating Democratic strength by that same four points.
In this scenario, Democrats would be slight favorites (63.3%) to retain House control, with an identical 222-213 split as after the 2020 elections. Not only would Democrats flip Pennsylvania and Wisconsin while holding all of their Senate seats, they would also add North Carolina and Ohio – and, perhaps, Florida; this would be a gain of 4-5 seats. They would still top out at netting three governor’s mansions, though a state like Georgia might creep into play.
On this Labor Day 2022, though, I prefer to drive straight down the middle, with Democrats limiting House losses to ~10 seats while netting two Senate seats and two governor’s mansions, outcomes which seemed like pipe dreams even six months ago.
Until next time, please wear a mask as necessary to protect yourself and others – and if you have not already done so, get vaccinated against COVID-19! Also, if you are not already registered to vote, please do so immediately. And if you like what you read on this website, please consider making a donation. Thank you.
 I give 1.5 times weight to polls conducted following Senate or gubernatorial primaries.
 WAPA weight = 0.25+((Days since January 1)/313)/1.33
 Polling quality adjustment = (Average rating+0.5*(2-Average rating))/3
 Using “1” instead of “2”
 Watching MSNBC coverage of the Senate vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, I was struck by how, well, unhinged and angry Rubio appeared – and how calm and cool Demings appeared. It is possible, of course, Demings is using this election as a dry run to challenge Rick Scott in 2024, so as long as finishes no lower than, say, 47% she can claim a “moral victory.”