In the months leading up to the midterms, many pundits and politicians thought that Republicans had momentum enough for big gains at the state and federal levels, enough to count as a “red wave.” But veteran Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg is one of a few voices in Washington who, despite President Joe Biden’s sagging approval ratings and polls that showed Democrats playing defense on inflation, remained optimistic about the party’s prospects and who was ultimately vindicated by a strong performance.
Rosenberg — who has previously advised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is the president of the progressive think tank NDN — says he’s not in the business of predictions. But he thought that the available data consistently pointed to a competitive election, and he became a self-described “info warrior” on Twitter trying to convince the pundit class of that. He believes that, unlike in 2016 and 2020 when polling failed to register Trump’s strength as a candidate, this time around, it was the media analyzing the polls who got it wrong.
“There was a massive media failure this cycle,” he said. “The failure that just took place is more grave than the polling error [in 2020] because there were a lot of really smart people who basically misled tens of millions of people through their political commentary in the final few weeks.”
It’s hard to know whether there was a practical effect of the doom-and-gloom stories about Democrats in the months before the election — whether it suppressed turnout by demoralizing voters or motivated them to show up because they feared what would happen if they didn’t. But even if any negative effect was small, that might have made a big impact.
“My own view is that it probably net cost us. It could have cost us the House,” Rosenberg said.
Here’s what he thinks went wrong.
Real election results weren’t given enough credence over polls
Rosenberg has been arguing that Republicans made a huge mistake in running toward Trumpism since November 2021, when he first challenged the notion that there would be a runaway red wave in the midterms.
That hypothesis gained a wider following over the summer amid backlash against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But there was a significant vibe shift in the fall, when Democrats’ margins on the generic ballot narrowed and they showed relative weakness in polls on issues like the economy and crime. Those seemed like signs that outrage over Roe had waned and that Republicans had the edge.
Rosenberg doesn’t think that was ever true and that available data showed an election where Democrats were favored in the Senate and the House was up for grabs. The clearest indication came from actual election results.
“Real voting is more important than polling,” Rosenberg said. “The way you interpret an election is looking at how people vote.”
Republicans had doubled down on a brand of politics that had just been twice rejected by the American people in 2020 and 2018. And a series of special elections that occurred over the summer showed a similar pattern, with Democrats significantly overperforming across House races in Nebraska, Alaska, Minnesota, and New York. In Nebraska’s First District, for instance, the Democrat lost by less than 6 percentage points, compared to more than 20 percentage points in 2020. And Democrats won a House seat in Alaska for the first time in half a century, defeating former Gov. Sarah Palin.
In August, voters in deep-red Kansas also showed up in supercharged numbers to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed state lawmakers to further restrict abortion access following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe.
All of that supported the notion that Democratic enthusiasm was up and that this wasn’t a normal midterm election, even as the polls narrowed and Biden’s approval rating was still underwater….