This Special Edition Washington Update is part of Integer’s 2022 election tracking. As we approach the midterms in November, our team will be presenting election updates at annual meetings and policy conferences. If you or your organization is interested in a midterm election presentation, please contact a member of our team to learn more.
With less than 100 days until votes are cast, the previously stagnant midterm outlook has begun to shift in Democrats’ favor. Democrats have nearly erased Republicans’ lead in the generic congressional ballot, and election forecasters are now projecting Democrats to retain control of the Senate this fall. The House is still predicted to flip, however. Below, we’ve analyzed recent developments that could move the electorate and detailed the state of play in each chamber, along with what all this could mean for the charitable sector, and more.
House State of Play
Election handicappers still expect Republicans to win control of the House this November, despite Democrats’ recent gains. Currently, there are 220 Democrats and 211 Republicans in the House. So, Republicans only need to pick up seven seats to flip the chamber. Republicans have long held electoral advantages in the chamber, including the disparity in incumbents retiring (31 D, 18 R), and advantages in voter enthusiasm and generic congressional ballot polling. According to FiveThirtyEight, Republicans have a 78 percent chance of winning the chamber in a simulation of 40,000 outcomes. Generally, House elections are a reflection of national political headwinds, which have favored Republicans for some time. While President Biden’s approval rating has inched up a bit in the last month, it is still hovering around 40 percent. Voters are still likely to see these midterms as a referendum on an unpopular president and vote accordingly, as we saw with the blue wave in 2018.
With the House expected to flip and current Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) looming retirement, Republicans will need to select a new chairman of the committee, which has sole jurisdiction over the charitable sector. A handful of Republicans on the committee are vying for the spot, including Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Jason Smith (R-MO), and Adrian Smith (R-NE). Buchanan, who is currently the second most senior member of the committee, is believed by many to be the frontrunner.
Senate State of Play
The Senate outlook has shifted more dramatically in recent months. Although Republicans have more seats (21) to defend than Democrats (14), most election handicappers rated the chamber as leaning Republican up until this month. Now, FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 63 percent chance of winning control of the chamber, up from 52 percent just one month ago. Beyond present trends moving in Democrats’ favor, underperforming Senate GOP candidates are also likely shifting the chamber’s outlook. Unlike the House, which tends to reflect national political headwinds more closely, results in the Senate are often more influenced by an individual candidate’s quality. And many of the GOP’s Senate candidates are struggling to resonate with voters.
Several races that were expected to be winnable for Republicans just months ago see Democrats with commanding leads in the polls. Recent polling has Democratic candidates leading by 10 or more points in Arizona and Pennsylvania. In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) led Republican JD Vance by double digits in a slate of recent polls, though a larger polling sample suggests Ryan’s lead is closer to the 4-to-5 point range. In Georgia, another GOP pickup target, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) consistently polled ahead of GOP candidate Hershel Walker in July by an average of 4.4 points. These are all states Republicans previously expected to have a good chance at winning. Polling in other states Republicans were expected to easily carry, including North Carolina and Wisconsin, show competitive races.
Importantly, there is still time for Republican Senate candidates to turn things around. However, at this point, Democrats appear likely to keep control of the Senate and could even increase their majority in the current 50-50 chamber.
To read more about underperforming Senate GOP candidates, you can find a recent piece on the topic on our blog, Integer Insights, here!
Possible Explanations for the Recent Shift in Democrats’ Favor
A Productive Congress: Despite a slow start to the year, Congress has advanced several significant bills in the last few months, including bipartisan initiatives like the CHIPS Act, also known as the China competitiveness bill, to fund domestic semiconductor production, gun control legislation, and the PACT Act to provide additional benefits for veterans. And now, with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats have finally advanced large pieces of their tax and spending agenda that their base has sought for over a year. While the impact of these bills likely won’t be felt for some time, voters could be warming up to Democrats as they watch a Democrat-controlled Washington get things done on relevant issues.
The Improving Economy: Another way to put this, things are not getting worse. In July, the consumer price index did not increase for the first time in 25 months as inflation eased slightly from 9.1 percent in June to 8.5 percent. Although prices remain dramatically up, voters may be encouraged that the economy is moving in the right direction. An example of this is falling gas prices, with the national average price of a gallon of gas dropping from $5.02 a gallon to $3.96 over the last two months. And despite the persistent challenges with inflation, the unemployment rate remains near 50-year lows. Generally, voters may be more forgiving so long as things continue to trend in the right direction.
Roe and Guns: As you may recall, we previously highlighted on Integer’s blog how major national news stories, including the overturn of Roe v Wade and mass shootings in Texas and New York, could potentially influence the midterms. While their initial impact appeared muted, it does seem like these events could drive Democratic turnout this fall. We’re already seeing this in some states, like Kansas, and suspect these politically salient issues will remain top of mind for voters and could very well drive turnout and factor into voters’ decisions come November.
What Democrats Want Now to Boost Their Chances – Trump 2024 Announcement: While the above developments may have boosted Democrats’ chances this fall, they are still projected to lose control of the House. However, some in Democratic circles believe the party could have a fighting chance at holding onto control of the lower chamber if former President Donald Trump announces he will run for president in 2024 before the midterms. Their thinking is making the midterms, in part, a referendum on the former president could boost their chances and drive turnout. While Trump has been publicly teasing a 2024 bid for months, some Republicans have urged him to wait until after the midterms to announce his candidacy.
Importantly, there is still time for new events to swing things in either party’s favor before any votes are cast. For example, early indications are that the FBI raid on Trump’s Florida estate earlier this month could boost GOP turnout.
What Divided Government Will Mean for the Charitable Sector
In a divided government, legislation will need strong bipartisan support to pass. Partisan initiatives, like the just-passed Inflation Reduction Act, will not advance if Republicans control a chamber of Congress. So, finding common ground will be important for legislative action. With a divided Congress, there will likely be fewer legislative vehicles to attach priorities to, which makes it unlikely that legislation like the Accelerating Charitable Efforts (ACE) Act will advance next Congress without broad bipartisan support. That said, those in the charitable sector with concerns about the chilling effect the ACE Act could have on giving will need to remain vigilant as proponents of the bill are expected to continue their efforts to build support for the proposal next year.
Fortunately for the sector, many of its major legislative priorities, like expanding charitable giving tax incentives, enjoy strong bipartisan support and could advance through a divided government. However, a divided Congress is unlikely to be a particularly productive Congress, which means party leaders will use other tools to highlight their priorities, like holding hearings on particular issues that could help them leading up to the 2024 presidential election. Exploration of reforms or oversight of perceived bad actors in all sectors could be topics of interest, so the charitable sector will need to keep a close eye on hearing themes to ensure they don’t get swept up in hasty reforms. Stay tuned.
Sandra Swirski, Sara Barba, Ali Bedford, Grant Berkshire and Geoff Paul