Americans delivered another split verdict, and told us a lot about our future

News Analysis: Demographics, early voting and candidate selection shape a clear picture for 2024.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

For a third straight election, Americans delivered an unmistakably split verdict in the midterms. In the process they have told us a whole lot about our country's future heading into the 2024 presidential contest.

The first message is that most Americans don't embrace the Democrats' far-left policies or like the direction their country has taken under Joe Biden. That dissatisfaction runs 7 or 8 out of every 10 voters. But they also aren't sold on some of the GOP's statewide candidates.

Their solution right now is to settle for divided government as a check block, with a likely small GOP majority in the House, a Senate divided by three or fewer seats and state governments shared between Democrat governors and Republican legislatures.

Secondly, the country's demographics have shifted markedly since the pandemic. New York has been drained of many fleeing Republicans, keeping a surging Lee Zeldin from winning, and the Southeast has been fortified by red voters so much so that Florida is no longer a tossup battleground.

Latinos are trending red, while young voters charged up about climate change and abortion are essential to Democrat victories going forward.

Third, Republicans have a recipe for winning when they find a statewide nominee or a congressional candidate who can marry a rapidly expanding MAGA base with traditional Republicans. Ron DeSantis' blowout in Florida, Brian Kemp's easy win in Georgia and last year's earthshaking victory by Glenn Youngkin make that clear.

So too does Jen Kiggans' capture of a blue Virginia House seat on Tuesday night as well as key GOP wins in central Florida's I-4 corridor, New York's upstate districts and across the West.

If Ron Johnson captures Wisconsin's Senate seat, Adam Laxalt wins Nevada's Senate seat and Kari Lake captures the Arizona gubernatorial races, the case for unified MAGA-establishment coalitions becomes even stronger.

But Republicans have exposed their Achilles heels too.

Candidates who can't marry the two wings of their party — like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Tudor Dixon in Michigan, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake Masters in Arizona — struggle in states that still have red leanings. Ticket-splitting in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania (Oz significantly outperformed Doug Mastriano) and Wisconsin makes that crystal clear.

Republicans also have little connection to voters under the age of 30, mostly on issues like climate change and abortion. The young voter is now an essential player in Democrat wins, and the GOP has much work to do to change that balance.  

And finally, early voting remains an essential advantage for Democrats, who are able to get more of their low-propensity voters to cast ballots ahead of time than Republicans can get to polls on Election Day. While the GOP made some gains, most strategists believe the Grand Old Party needs to learn to operate in an early-voting world to get more of its low-propensity voters to cast their ballots.

Nowhere was that more clear than in Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman ran up an early lead in mail-in voting before voters got to see at a late debate how profoundly he was affected by a stroke.

Democrats have a well-oiled playbook honed on their performance in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 campaigns. Young voters, women concerned about abortion policies and mail-in ballots for low-propensity voters are their secret sauce.

Republicans hoping to perform better will have to counter with candidates who can marry the MAGA and Country Club blocs, a message for young and female voters and an adjusted strategy for early voting where it has become more prevalent.

Meanwhile, just how split America ends the 2022 election must still be determined. Republicans are poised for a gain of between 12 and 24 seats in the House. If Laxalt and Johnson hold their leads and Walker can win a runoff, they still have a path for winning the Senate by a single seat. If not, Democrats would hold a 2-3 seat advantage.

Finally, once again pollsters got the final predictions wrong. But this time enthusiastic Republicans were overcounted, while Democrats aware of their leadership's unpopularity played possum.

Democrats enter the 2024 election cycle upside down on many of the key issues like economy, energy, parents' rights and crime while holding advantages on abortion. But Republicans can only take advantage if they counter with the right candidates, improve fundraising, figure out early mail-in voting and create new messaging targeting young, college-educated and female voting blocs.