Analysis: Trump loomed large in the minds of voters and dragged down his party’s candidates — nationally and in states with key Senate races, according to exit polls.
WASHINGTON — How did Democrats stop a red wave in 2022?
The short answer: Donald Trump appears to have helped them.
In a major departure from past trends, the 2022 midterm election turned out to be nearly as much of a referendum on the defeated former president as it was on incumbent President Joe Biden, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for NBC News and other networks.
Trump loomed large in the minds of voters and dragged down his party’s candidates — nationally and in key swing states with Senate races — despite being out of power. In many cases that blunted the impact of Biden’s unpopularity, and widespread economic pain, helping Democrats defy political gravity and hold their own.
Nationally, 32% of voters in 2022 said their vote was “to oppose Joe Biden.” But 28% said their vote was “to oppose Donald Trump,” even though Trump was out of office. That suggests Trump’s continued dominance over the GOP made the 2022 election, in the minds of voters, almost as much about a defeated former president as it was about the current president and party in power.
“It was a Trump problem,” a Republican operative involved in the 2022 election told NBC News, speaking candidly about the de facto leader of the GOP on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Independents didn’t vote for candidates they viewed as extreme and too closely linked with Donald J. Trump.”
Independent voters made up 31% of the electorate and they favored Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 49% to 47%, a stark break from the past four midterms in which they voted by double digits for the party out of power, according to exit polls.
In Trump’s first midterm in 2018, his party lost 40 House seats. In President Barack Obama’s first midterm in 2010, his party lost 63 House seats. Their approval ratings at the time — in the low-to-mid 40s, according to Gallup — were similar to Biden’s when voters cast their ballots in 2022. Yet Democrats are projected to hold Senate control, and their House losses have been so modest that it’s still not clear the GOP will gain the handful of seats it needs to seize the majority.
Negative views of Biden didn’t correlate with voting GOP. The 10% of voters who said they “somewhat disapprove” of Biden narrowly broke for Democrats over Republicans, 49% to 45%.
Overall, Biden’s job approval rating, which was 44% positive and 55% negative, was better than Trump’s rating in 2022, 39% favorable and 58% unfavorable, the exit polls showed. Among the 58% who had an unfavorable view of Trump, 77% supported Democrats while 20% voted for GOP candidates.