Commentary: Despite some polls, history shows Democrats may struggle to keep Senate

It should be no surprise then that this fall’s Democrat Senate nominees, like in the past, have their future tied to the president’s job approval.

President Joe Biden meets in the Oval Office with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (White House/Flickr)

There’s a perception, perhaps rooted in some reality, that Republicans have nominated a mediocre at best group of candidates — a celebrity doctor, a hillbilly-turned-author, a 1980s football star, and a millennial venture capitalist — in this year’s crucial U.S. Senate elections.

As GOP candidates try to remedy their predicaments, the Democrat candidates hope to avoid being linked to President Joe Biden’s lackluster job approval ratings and keep control of the upper chamber. It’s not impossible, but results from the last few election cycles show that it’s unlikely.

It’s true that FiveThirtyEight’s election model currently favors Democrats to hold the Senate in two months, while the GOP has a three in four chance to retake the U.S. House majority. Many factors contribute to this divergence, including a shrinking number of competitive House districts and an unfavorable Senate map for Republicans.

Democrats push the idea that GOP nominees are unelectable in states that are not deep red, yet this partisan claim also runs against recent historical evidence. Our elections are increasingly partisan, with voters prioritizing parties and often voting for all its candidates along the ticket.

In midterm elections going back nearly a decade, when you compare the incumbent president’s approval to the actual vote totals received by incumbent senators from the president’s party, results should make Democrats tone down their ebullience.

In the Republicans’ successful 2014 elections, for example, several veteran Democrat senators ran nearly double digits ahead of President Barack Obama’s job approval in their states, yet most still lost.

Eight short years ago, the left also argued that these moderate incumbents would win reelection despite Obama’s declining job approval. Midsummer polls also showed Democrats ahead or even in right-leaning places like Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, and Louisiana. Those advantages quickly evaporated, and Republican stalwarts like Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and Bill Cassidy won by large margins in November.

Two years later, no Democrat in a competitive race finished more than five points ahead of Obama’s final 2016 job approval rating.

Partisanship increased even more during the last two cycles.

Nine Republican candidates in the most hotly-contested 2018 and 2020 Senate races ran within only two points of then-President Donald Trump’s job approval. Only two GOP nominees ran 10 or more points ahead or behind Trump’s job approval. Those were Sen. Susan Collins, who outperformed Trump by nearly 20 points in Maine, and Patrick Morrisey, who in 2018 ran 17 points behind Trump’s job approval in West Virginia, when he lost a close race to incumbent Joe Manchin.

It should be no surprise then that this fall’s Democrat Senate nominees, like in the past, have their future tied to the president’s job approval. Senate candidates probably will run a few points ahead of that figure, but that’s no solace when Biden’s approval is hovering around 40%. Unless Biden’s ratings tick up appreciably, Democrats need to win a plurality of votes among Biden disapprovers to have a shot.

Finally, the left’s confidence ignores how unbalanced polls regularly oversample Democratic strength in recent elections. In 2020, final projections for close states all overestimated the Democrats’ performance when compared to actual results. The clues are there. Expect something similar to this to occur in at least one or two key races this fall, despite what current polls show.

Could Democrats massively outperform historical trends and make this fall different? When their latest policies are transparent scams to help the affluent, it’s doubtful, especially if Republican options cease the internecine bickering.


A.J. Kaufman
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A.J. Kaufman is an Alpha News columnist. His work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Indianapolis Star, Israel National News, Orange County Register, St. Cloud Times, Star-Tribune, and across AIM Media Midwest and the Internet. Kaufman previously worked as a school teacher and military historian.