The most surprising result in the US Senate (Analysis)

(CNN) — One of the most common reiterations in politics is that voters hate Washington and want outsiders elected. But Sen. Raphael Warnock’s victory in the Georgia Senate runoff on Tuesday is part of a trend that suggests that, at least in 2022, that was not true.

Each of the 29 incumbent Senate candidates who ran for re-election won. This year’s Senate elections they scored the first time, in at least a century, in which no sitting senator running for re-election lost.

What happened? Poor quality of contenders, a map without many competitive contests at a time of great polarization, and an unusually close national environment all combined to make history.

Senator Raphael Warnock speaks during an election night party after a projected victory in the midterm runoff election between Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, in Atlanta on December 6, 2022. Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Let’s start with the fact that the Republicans were unable to take advantage of the typical midterm headwinds that are moving against the president’s party. That happened in part because of the poor quality of the candidates.

Let’s think about the applicants for the Higher profile Senate candidates (Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada) in which the Republicans hoped to overthrow the Democrats. All applicants had a negative net favorability (favorable – unfavorable). All of the senators running for re-election in these states had positive net favorability ratings.

It should also be noted that all of these states are those that President Joe Biden won in 2020.

This brings up a second important point: the list of competitive races on this Senate map was quite small.

Most of these same Senate seats were last contested in 2016. That year, the party that won the presidential race in one state also won the Senate race. Two of these Senate seats switched parties in special elections in 2020, but both changes occurred in states (Arizona and Georgia) that also switched at the presidential level that year.

In fact, Wisconsin was the only state on this year’s Senate map where the incumbent senator was not from the same party that won the state in the 2020 presidential election. Biden carried that state by less than one point.

At a time when polarization is high, and when almost all the candidates were from states that their party had won in previous presidential elections, one of two things had to happen for the candidates to lose: either the candidates they had to be much more appreciated than the sitting senators, or else the national environment had to be very favorable to one of the two parties.

We have already mentioned that the Republican candidates in the most competitive races with the Democrats in power were not more popular than they were. The same was true in Wisconsin, where the Democratic candidate also had a negative net favorability rating.

This meant that the national milieu had to lean heavily towards one party for an incumbent candidate to be likely to lose. It was not so. By contrast, Democratic and Republican Senate candidates garnered roughly the same percentage of votes nationwide when accounting for all elections.

In fact, it was a choice historically close at the national level. The nation’s cumulative vote margin for the Senate will be the tightest since at least 1990.

Interestingly, the fact that no incumbent senators lost seems in keeping with another historic 2022 election.

As in the Senate, incumbent governors have historically done well. There was only one governor who lost re-election (Steve Sisolak of Nevada). That single defeat is the least of the incumbent governors in cycles in which at least 10 of them ran since at least 1948.

And just like the Senate race, the cumulative vote in the gubernatorial race was tighter than in any other presidential or midterm election year. since at least 1990.

It turns out that few voters seemed to want to “kick the bums out” in 2022. In reality, voters seemed willing to have a firm hand in government that favored tenure and minimal change. In an age dominated by the presence of former President Donald Trump, that is certainly remarkable.

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