This week’s special election in New Mexico’s 1st congressional district is part of a larger trend that shows us that if President Joe Biden remains as popular as he is now, Democrats have a fighting chance to maintain House control.
Of course, this was just one special election. But there have been a slew of special elections, mostly on the state legislative level since Biden became president, that seem to indicate something similar. Look at these specials using the past two presidential elections (giving more weight to 2020) as a baseline.
Democrats seem to be doing 2 points to 5 points better than you’d expect in a neutral political environment, depending on whether you look at all special elections involving at least one Democrat and Republican or those taking place with only one Democrat and one Republican.
This 2 to 5 point Democratic advantage matches pretty much what we saw in the national congressional generic ballot. It is also pretty much identical to the results we witnessed in last year’s election. Biden won by 4.5 points nationally, and Democrats were victorious in the national House vote by about 3 points.
Put another way, the presidents whose parties lost the House in midterm elections were almost all more unpopular than Biden is right now.
Now, that may not save Democrats next fall because all but the most popular presidents have lost seats in midterms, even if their party didn’t lose House control. The Democrats have almost no room to spare as they won a slim majority in the 2020 elections.
The bottom line is that if you approve of the president, you’re very likely to vote for his party, and if you disapprove, you’re very likely to vote for the opposition in this polarized era.
In 2018, Republican House candidates won 88% of those who approved of Donald Trump’s job performance and lost 90% who disapproved. Republicans lost the House because more voters disapproved of Trump (54%) than approved (45%).
Biden, at this point, is inverse of this with an approval rating in the mid 50s and a disapproval rating in the low 40s.
If Biden doesn’t lose ground going forward, the 2022 midterms may prove to be an ahistorical event.