Don't get cocky about a red wave

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Joe Biden has been a disaster as president.  The number of unmitigated failures during his watch include the Afghanistan withdrawal, soaring inflation, food shortages, supply chain issues, rising crime, open borders, lost reputation abroad, and the list goes on and on.

Some signs point to a "red wave" this November.  President Biden is less popular than anyone expected, and more are pessimistic about the direction of the country than usual.  The general congressional ballot has swung in the favor of Republicans (a rare event), and the percentage of Latinos who support the Democrat agenda has dropped, even on issues like immigration.  These signs have led many Republicans to believe they are on track to make historic gains.

Indeed, when a red wave occurs, it can be impressive: the Republicans gained 54 seats in 1994 and 64 seats in 2010.  But that was under a different Census.

Every ten years, congressional districts are reapportioned according to the latest Census.  This means that the districts that produced 54 seats in 1994 were revised after the 2000 count, and the districts that produced 64 seats in 2010 were revised by 2012.

The districts for the 2022 election have been revised further still.  For the last three Census apportionments, the strategy has been to try to gain an advantage for the party that's in power in each particular state.  Each state manipulates the map to solidify holds on seats already held by the ruling party.

All this suggests that Republicans might temper their expectations somewhat in 2022.  While it's highly likely they'll win enough seats to control the House of Representatives and, possibly, even the U.S. Senate, the days of massive swings might be gone.

Most "waves" occurred when there was a bigger discrepancy between the two parties in the House.  The GOP's success in 2020 despite Biden's win left Congress just short of parity between the two parties.  There's less room to move up in 2022 than in some previous Congresses, when the Republicans were far behind.

Seats rated as "toss-ups" also seem to be less in number.  According to the self-described non-partisan Cook Political Report, there are about 20 or so seats in swing areas, defined as where Biden won by less than seven percent.

There are even fewer incumbent Democrats in areas won by Donald Trump in 2020, who could be candidates for ousting.  Even the recent special election gain for the GOP in Texas's 34th Congressional District may be a hollow victory.  Myra Flores, a Mexican-born woman, will find her map, due to redistricting, Democrat-heavy come November.  Biden won the pre-redistricting map by 4 percent, but he would have won the newly redrawn November map by 16 percent, making Flores a long shot to repeat her upset.

In order for dozens of Democrat incumbents to lose, Republicans would need a continued shift in the overall vote nationally to reach historic levels.  Such a blowout isn't impossible, given the current administration's failures in multiple arenas.  The paucity of marginal seats, however, suggests that a gain of 20 seats or so is more realistic.

This isn't so bad: Minnesota congressman and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer (R) says that a gain of 18 seats would end up with a bigger GOP majority than in Newt Gingrich's early days as speaker of the House.  A 30-seat pickup would eclipse the historic 2010 wave.  Beyond that, Emmer says, is a bit of a stretch.

Whether Republicans can win elections in places that Biden won by more than 10 points may not be certain, but it can happen.  Democrats, for example, won seven seats in 2018 in areas where Trump had won by more than 10 points just two years earlier.  Other factors that come into play in the near future to energize Republicans, independents, and Democrats may also make a difference.  Issues that could get one group or another's dander up include rising inflation, abortion, international tensions, gun control, climate change, and January 6.  Who knows what will strike a nerve with the American public?

With a populace as polarized as ours is today, however, minds are so set against the other side that we'll probably see a lot of straight party-line voting.  The proof of this is evident if you look at Joe Biden's approval rating: the RealClearPolitics average of the president's general performance is at 39.1 percent.  That means that close to 40 percent of the nation thinks Joe Biden is doing a decent job.

Given what's happened to the country in the last year and a half, the fact that multiple polls show that high an approval rating for Joe Biden tells you something: that a lot of people just can't change horses in the middle of the stream, even if it's drowning.

Joe Alton, M.D. is a physician and medical preparedness advocate and the N.Y. Times bestselling author of The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide For When Help Is Not On The Way.

Image: Eric Fischer via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 (cropped).

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