First of all, let’s stipulate that expectation of a red wave this election was entirely warranted. I was prepared for the worst myself. Recent history and Joe Biden’s bad approval numbers suggested a big Republican night.
It didn’t come close to happening. So: why?
My answer: because the mainstream media, the so-called “liberal” media, goes out of its way during every campaign to emphasize news of Dems in disarray. Twenty polls show the Dobbs decision matters to voters. But look, here comes one outlier that shows Dobbs not registering! That’s news! Let’s play up that one!
I’ve watched a lot of elections in my life, and I’ve seen this happen time after time after time. The liberal media, I guess wanting to demonstrate its collective independence, decides that “news” equals “looks bad for Democrats.” There were hundreds, maybe thousands of headlines over these last four weeks screaming that everything was moving toward Republicans.
Maybe most notorious of all was a New York Times poll in late October that crowed about a massive shift among independents to Republicans, based on a sample size of a small subgroup of respondents. Did any editors at the Times say, “Hey, folks, let’s hold on a second here?” Maybe, but in the end, the paper bannered the bad news for Democrats across its front page, and the huge play ensured that this alleged substantial shift became conventional wisdom.
And that, again, is the liberal media at work. It happens every time.
Exit polls should be taken with a grain of salt these days, but they’re all we have, and they show that the media got four main narratives really, really wrong.
1. Independents and moderates backed Democrats.
It was close, maybe within the margin of error, but in the two exit polls conducted, Democrats won. The network exit poll by Edison Research gave Democrats a 49–47 advantage, while the AP’s survey had Democrats up 39–35 (with a large undecided). Those are close, and they may be off by a few points, but they run counter to the media narrative that Republicans were going to win independents by double digits easily.
On the measure of ideology, the results were even more pronounced. Edison had Democrats winning moderates 56–41, while AP had it 54–39.
2. Abortion mattered after all.
It became conventional wisdom in early-to-mid October that Dobbs wasn’t an issue anymore and that Democrats had made a crushing mistake by spending all that TV ad money on abortion. No one cared.
Well, the network poll (Edison) had inflation the number one issue at 31 percent but abortion a close second at 27 percent. The AP asked it differently, and in that survey, “the economy and jobs” was admittedly number one by far. But in the network poll, 76 percent of that 27 percent voted Democratic. All five states with abortion on the ballot this year voted to protect abortion rights. That list includes Kentucky.
Maybe those Democratic candidates knew what they were doing!
3. Latinos did not abandon the Democratic Party.
This was a whopper. In the mainstream media, Latinos had basically become Republican. They hated abortion, all manifestations of wokery, many were evangelical, and on and on and on. The network poll had Latinos going Democratic 60–39, and in the AP poll it was 56–38. Both closer than Democrats would prefer—in presidential elections, they’d like to see something closer to 70–30. But those numbers are a long way from abandonment.
4. Joe Biden was not a huge albatross around Democrats’ neck.
He was underwater on approval in the exits, and he perhaps didn’t help in some races, but he sure didn’t drag Democrats down the way so many in the media predicted.
There were a lot of reasons for that. Dobbs was apparently a big one. Maybe the student debt forgiveness—also routinely denounced in the media as a slap in the face to non-college voters—helped, because turnout among young people was considerably better than expected. The extremism of many of the Republican candidates helped. New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, whose political obituary was written many times in the campaign’s final week, rolled to a double-digit win. Wasn’t remotely close.
And while it can’t be said, based on the evidence, that Biden’s legislative wins helped much, we can definitively say that they didn’t hurt, which is a big deal. Voters were angry about inflation, yes. But it looks like GOP attempts to convince moderates that Biden was peddling socialism came up short. Abigail Spanberger, the Virginia House Democrat whose political obituary was also written many times, and who in 2021 groused that no one elected Biden to be FDR, won pretty handily, by four points—and in the closing weeks, she went around the district touting the benefits of the hard infrastructure bill.
And besides, Republicans offered nothing economically, other than defunding the IRS. They had, and have, no domestic policy agenda. Something beats nothing.
I might toss in a fifth: that maybe voters care about democracy after all. This too became conventional wisdom—that voters didn’t care about the fate of the country and that Democrats were wasting their time talking about such airy-fairy nonsense. It looks like enough voters cared.
Will the media ever learn? Doubtful. The right-wing propaganda machine creates these memes. Republican pols get out there and say whatever. Kevin McCarthy once said the Republicans were going to pick up 60 House seats. The mainstream media, hungry for trafficky narratives and out to prove that it doesn’t favor Democrats, laps it up. It creates a narrative that, yes, has sometimes been true in the past but is often not and, Tuesday night, was wildly, embarrassingly out of touch with reality.