Democrats weren’t supposed to feel this way about the midterms.
Not only did they face the strong historical trend of backlash to the president’s party in their first midterm election — a fate the last two presidents suffered and that George W. Bush avoided only by whit of 9/11 — but they were also being dragged down by President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings cratered to below 40 percent. Just last fall, Republicans won all three top statewide offices in Virginia, a state that Biden won just a year prior, and almost pulled off an upset in New Jersey, a Democratic haven.
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But there’s another story to tell. The combination of gas prices peaking and the Dobbs decision coming down at nearly the exact same time “synced up in the most optimal way imaginable for Democrats,” Republican lobbyist Liam Donovan told Grid.
The decline in gas prices “leaves Republicans in a weird spot where they don’t have the same cudgels,” Donovan said, while the Dobbs decision means “they’re on their heels in other respects.”
The numbers that have improved for Democrats
The country’s rightward lurch on abortion policy put Republicans on the defensive, squeezed between maximalist anti-abortion positions and public opinion on abortion that, while ambivalent, tends to support some legal protections. The Supreme Court decision also seems to have fired up Democratic voters, especially in low-turnout special elections, and could power an unexpectedly robust midterms performance, including holding on to the 50-50 Senate.
Dobbs was, in effect, a massive policy win delivered by the out-of-power party. If the decisive voters in a midterm election want to “balance” out policy advances made in the past two years, Republicans now may be facing a situation where they’ve had a massive, backlash-inducing policy victory while in the congressional minority. That the most striking and overwhelming electoral victory for abortion rights since Dobbs was a literal defense of Kansas’ relatively restrictive status quo on legalized abortion only adds credence to this theory — large shifts away from what prevailed before Dobbs mean electoral risk for anti-abortion politicians.
“A drop in inflation and energy prices in particular lowers the salience of the issue. This drop creates space for the election to be about abortion and, in particular, highlighting how the Republican Party wants to change the status quo,” Ethan Winter, lead analyst at the left-leaning organization Data for Progress, told Grid.
“Special elections are low-turnout events, so we should be cautious over interpreting these results,” Winter said. “As turnout rises, it’s likely that each marginal voter added will care more about inflation than abortion.”
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