History says so, but the current political climate suggests it may not be that simple.
It also depends on what you constitute ‘winning’ the midterm elections. Taking control of one of the chambers of the US Congress? Both? Just gaining on your last electoral performance? Winning the national popular vote? Depending on your metric, you will likely get different predictions. I myself would consider material gains on your last electoral result a victory.
Republicans, in keeping with historical trends that suggest the incumbent President’s party take a beating at the midterm polls, are probably going to make material gains on most fronts. For example, Democrats lost a net 63 seats in the House of Representatives and 7 Senate seats in the November 2010 ‘red wave’ during the first term of President Obama. This trend, even with large partisan shifts, does not necessarily mean the chambers will change hands: the red wave of 2010 flipped the House to the GOP, but despite 7 Republican Senate seat pickups it remained in Democratic hands. The problem for Democrats in 2022 is that they have razor-thin majorities in both chambers, that are vulnerable to even statistically insignificant shifts to the GOP among certain demographics and are at the mercy of turnout.
It is certainly shaping up to be an unorthodox election nonetheless: it is hard to conceive that Republican gubernatorial challengers have plausible paths to victory for the governorships of deep-blue New York and Oregon and in the same election the Democratic gubernatorial nominee has a shot at winning in Oklahoma, a state that backed Trump by a 33.1% margin in 2020 and one of the most conservative states in America.
The battle for the US Senate is probably the most watched, given it is the segment of the elections whose outcome is most unclear. Most pundits and even Democrats have long conceded that the House of Representatives ship has sailed, and whilst there is the remote possibility of a remarkable holdout or mitigating serious losses, Republicans are heavily favoured to take control.
Exacerbated recent gerrymandering following the 2020 census, state-legislature-endorsed voter suppression and tighter voter restrictions in some states, along with all of the political issues that are bolstering the GOP like inflation and Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer, are stacking the deck heavily against the Democrats in the House.
You could perhaps argue that the fate of the Senate is not as equally unfavourable to Democrats in part because of which states happen to have their Senate elections this cycle, but predominantly because in several key states, the GOP selected weaker nominees than they could have, as more traditional establishment Republicans were defeated by unorthodox ‘MAGA’ Trump-endorsed candidates in primaries. The best example is in Georgia, the closest state in the 2020 presidential election, where Herschel Walker has been embroiled in damaging abortion and familial discord controversies as well as innumerable major gaffes, giving his incumbent Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock a chance to withstand historical trends and hold on, in a race you could suppose a quieter establishment GOP candidate may have had a better chance.
Recent Republican tendencies to embrace celebrities as candidates does not seem to be doing them many favours overall, with Walker limping along in Georgia and Dr Oz struggling in Pennsylvania among other cases.
With New Hampshire, Colorado and Arizona leaning Democratic in the Senate and Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin leaning Republican, largely due to the incumbent effect on both sides, we are left with Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania as the three tossup contests that will likely decide Senate control.
Democrats need two of those tossups to retain their majority (a 50-50 partisan breakdown gives the Democrats a working majority, as Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tie-breaking votes in her capacity of President of the Senate), but Republicans also need two to make it to 51.
FiveThirtyEight compiles public polling and produces statistical winning probabilities in political races. As of November 6, they give the respective Democratic nominees in Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania 43%, 42% and 55% probabilities of victory. These will be races down to the wire, and traditional polling errors mean either party could ultimately win any or all of them.
Notably however, these are declines for these Democrats from their positions several weeks ago, which goes hand-in-hand with steady Republican upticks in generic congressional ballot polls. This may be a result of abortion rights being increasingly replaced by economic concerns, inflation and energy and gas prices as the most prominent issue for many as time progresses. Historically, voters trust the GOP on economics more.
Realistically, it is difficult to predict the Senate outcomes as we do not know what turnout levels will be (which as a rule of thumb it generally favours Democrats when it is higher), nor how off polling has been if at all). Polls have infamously underestimated Democrats in Nevada (where early voting numbers appear to be favourable to Democrats this cycle) and Georgia before, like in 2016 and 2018, but polls have notoriously underestimated Republicans in Pennsylvania and the Midwest in recent times.
I will speculate, and it is only that, that wider current analysis and factors suggest the most likely outcome is a 50-50 result again in the Senate and a somewhat narrow to moderate Republican win in the House of perhaps 5 to 30 seats, but it is truly impossible to say with any certainty. It will largely depend on turnout and partisan energy. However, as Nathaniel Rakich also notes, ‘Republicans are just a normal polling error away from a landslide – or wiping out’, and that a ‘wide range of scenarios is possible in this election: everything from a Republican landslide to a world where Democrats hold the House and gain seats in the Senate’.