If you’re looking for a key to unlock what happened in the 2022 midterm elections, look no further than the independent vote.
At the moment, according to exit polls conducted for CNN and other news networks by Edison Research, 49% of independent voters nationwide chose Democratic candidates for the House while 47% opted for Republicans.
That’s a major change from the last FOUR midterm elections. Take a look at the breakdown of the independent vote from those elections:
(Democrats gained a net of 40 House seats)
(Republicans gained a net of 13 House seats)
(Republicans gained a net of 63 House seats)
(Democrats gained a net of 30 House seats)
It’s not an exaggeration, then, to say that the way independents go is determinative in those midterms. In this election, CNN has yet to make a projection in the race for control of the House or Senate with several key races still too early to call.
If you take a step back, the outsize role independents have played isn’t all that surprising.
We live in a uniquely partisan time. Elections in the US have increasing grown to look like parliamentary elections, with voters tending to choose their team/party over all other considerations.
That’s certainly what played out on Tuesday night. Democrats voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates (96%) and Republican voters did the same for Republican candidates (96%). While the electorate was slightly more Republican (36% of the total electorate) than Democratic (33%), those numbers effectively canceled each other out.
Which made the independent vote (31% of the electorate) all the more crucial. And independents were, undoubtedly, cross-pressured in this election.
President Joe Biden was not popular among the overall electorate, with only 41% viewing him favorably. But neither was Donald Trump, as 39% viewed him favorably. Abortion was more of a top-of-mind issue than most polling showed in the run-up to the race, with 27% saying it was the most important issue to their vote. That was second only to inflation (31%).
Looking forward, the focus on independents is likely to be crucial. In the 2020 presidential race, Biden carried independents by a 54% to 41% margin – and won. In 2016, Trump carried independents by six points – and won.
It’s not a coincidence. With partisanship at all-time highs, the number of persuadable voters unaffiliated with either party is very small. Though this bloc may be smaller, it is mighty when determining who winds up actually winning elections.