WASHINGTON – If Tuesday’s vote defied the durable history of presidential parties taking heavy losses in a midterm election, it also reinforced an often-forgotten fact: These campaigns are a patchwork of thousands of races, not a nationwide contest.
Democrats fared better than expected, though not necessarily well enough to preserve control of Congress, a call that The Associated Press has yet to make. The “Make America Great Again” movement launched by former President Donald Trump maintained its grasp on the GOP, even as some of Trump’s hand-picked candidates lost key races.
The crosscurrents in the electorate yielded some foundational strength for both parties. For Democrats, it included the power of the Black vote in Georgia, of women's votes in Michigan and young voters in Pennsylvania. For Republicans, in addition to the strength of the MAGA worldview, there were also inroads among Hispanic voters in Florida, and the prospect of limiting Democratic margins among college graduates in places like Ohio.
The challenge for both parties as the country turns to the 2024 election cycle is whether they can leverage those strengths on a national scale.
In AP VoteCast, an in-depth survey of more than 94.000 voters nationwide, voters indicated that inflation, abortion or fears about democracy may have swayed the votes. But they did so in myriad ways depending on the state, district or the candidates.
The survey's numbers tell a story of how demographics, cultural issues and the quality of candidates were central to many of the outcomes. The race, sex, education and age of voters all shaped results in an increasingly diverse country, as did where people lived and how candidates related to them in many crucial races.
Democrats, for instance, held a narrow advantage in congressional races nationwide with college graduates, but they generally beat expectations in states where they clearly won over this growing bloc.
This was true in New Hampshire, where 44% of voters have a college degree. Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan won roughly two-thirds of their vote. This was more than enough to overcome her shortcomings with voters who lack a degree, a group that appeared to back Republican Donald Bolduc.
By comparison, the electorate in Nevada had a lower share of college graduates than the nation as a whole. Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt split about evenly among college graduates. They're locked in a tight contest where ballots are still being counted to determine who won, an outcome that could be crucial for determining which party controls the Senate.
Race was also a factor in determining how competitive races were, with Democrats faring better in more diverse states.
Nearly 9 in 10 voters in Wisconsin are white and about half of them backed Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Democrat Mandela Barnes was defeated despite earning the clear majority of non-white voters, who make up just 11% of the state’s electorate.
But in Georgia, 30% of voters are Black, more than double the national share. Ninety percent of the state’s Black voters supported Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, pushing his contest with former football star Herschel Walker into a run-off next month.
Both parties have been trying to win over women for decades. Michigan offered a gubernatorial race between two women, a chance to chart Democrats’ strength with this core constituency as a state measure to preserve abortion access was also on the ballot.
More than half of Michigan women — 56% — voted for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with just 43% backing Republican challenger Tudor Dixon. Whitmer outperformed the national figures, in which Democratic congressional candidates enjoyed 49% support from women.
About 6 in 10 Whitmer voters “enthusiastically” supported their candidate, compared with about 4 in 10 Dixon voters. About a third of Dixon voters said they supported her “with reservations.”
America’s suburbs have long been a battleground, and a place where Democrats thought they were building a beachhead. But they also showed they could stay competitive without running up the score in the suburbs.
In 2018, when Democrats secured House and Senate majorities during Trump’s presidency, they did so with outsized wins in the metro areas that account for two-thirds of the U.S. electorate. But in 2022, Democratic candidates essentially split the suburbs with Republican candidates.
Young voters continued to be a source of strength for Democrats in key races. In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Democrats won younger voters by outsized margins. These margins were often large enough to offset Republican advantages with older voters, who are the majority of the total electorate.
In Pennsylvania, 61% of voters younger than 45 backed Democrat John Fetterman. That’s somewhat higher than the percentage of young voters — 56% — that backed Joe Biden in 2020. That helped Fetterman build a firewall against Republican Mehmet Oz.
Like for Whitmer in Michigan, about two-thirds of Fetterman’s voters were enthusiastic in their support for him, compared with Oz voters splitting between enthusiastic support and support with reservations. Concerns about Oz’ familiarity with the state overshadowed concerns about Fetterman’s health following a stroke.
While there was strong support for the MAGA point of view, voters in some states also drew a line. In the Pennsylvania governor’s race, about two-thirds of voters were concerned that Republican candidate Doug Mastriano’s views were too extreme, compared with just about 4 in 10 saying that about Democratic governor-elect Josh Shapiro.
Close associations with Trump may have contributed to Shapiro's and Oz's defeats, but the situation appeared different in neighboring Ohio. Trump-endorsed Republican J.D. Vance handily defeated Democrat Tim Ryan, whom he connected to Biden. Voters were more likely to say Ryan supports Biden too much than that Vance supports Trump too much.
Republicans were heartened by a remarkably strong showing in Florida, where 73% of Republican voters said they consider themselves to be supporters of the MAGA movement. About two-thirds of voters approved of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who racked up the majority of older voters in the retiree-packed state. DeSantis, a possible GOP candidate for president in 2024, also won a majority of Latino voters, who make up nearly 2 in 10 of his state’s voters.
While both parties walk away from the midterms with gains and losses, voters also sent a signal that they're discontent with the political landscape and worried about the country's future. Overall, about 1 in 4 voters said neither party regularly tries to do what's right for the country. Three-quarters said the nation is on the wrong track.
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and The Associated Press. The survey of 94,296 voters was conducted for nine days, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files; self-identified registered voters using NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population; and self-identified registered voters selected from nonprobability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at https://ap.org/votecast.