We’ve become used to displays of braggadocio by politicians (see former President Donald Trump). That’s why it’s notable when a politician admits that the political winds might not be going their way.
Such was the case when Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Republicans had a better chance of taking back the House than the Senate. “Candidate quality has a lot to do with [it],” he noted.
McConnell’s comments are where we begin our roundup of the news of the week that was.
Disliked candidates could cost Republicans the Senate
Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate didn’t look so great when 2022 began. They weren’t in as bad of shape as they were in the House (as is still the case), but they were clear underdogs.
Today, an average of different forecasts and political betting odds indicate that Democrats are slightly favored to hold on to Congress’ upper chamber. The change in Senate fortune comes as the party continues to poll far better than expected in a number of states while several Republican candidates struggle to connect with the voters.
In other words, McConnell seems to be exactly right.
Recent polls from Arizona and Wisconsin are a case in point. President Joe Biden won both states in 2020 by less than a point, four years after voters there backed Trump. Republicans should be in a strong position in these states, if 2022 featured the normal midterm backlash against the president’s party.
Instead, the Democratic candidates (Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin) have led in all the polls. In Arizona, Kelly was up 8 points over Republican Blake Masters in a Fox poll. In Wisconsin, Barnes was ahead by 7 points in a Marquette University Law School poll and by 4 points in a Fox poll over Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
The results were especially noteworthy because in all those polls, Biden was underwater in his net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable).
The reason Democrats were ahead in both states was in large part because the Republican candidates were also underwater. Masters’ net favorability rating was -4 points, while Johnson’s were -6 and -9 points in the Fox and Marquette polls respectively.
The Democratic candidates in both states, on the other hand, had positive net favorability ratings.
These aren’t the only purple states where we see the phenomenon of Democratic candidates being relatively popular, while Biden and Republican Senate candidates are unpopular. The same is true in Georgia and Pennsylvania, which Biden won by about a point or less in 2020 and that Trump took in 2016.
Democrats (Sen. Raphael Warnock and Lt. Gov John Fetterman) led the Republican candidates (Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz) by 4 points and 11 points in late July Fox polls from Georgia and Pennsylvania respectively.
The cause, again, was unpopular Republican candidates. Walker’s net favorability rating was -5 points, while Oz’s was -20 points. The Democratic nominees in both states had positive net favorability ratings, which made up for the fact that Biden was underwater in his net favorability rating in both states.
Keep in mind that these four states (Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) make up the majority of the truly competitive races on this year’s Senate map. Were Democrats to win all four, Republicans would need an upset in a state they aren’t currently expected to win to take back the Senate.
If anything, it seems like Republicans are the ones who are fighting off challengers in unexpected territory. A super PAC with ties to McConnell just had to reserve $28 million in advertising in Ohio, a state Trump won by 8 points in 2020. The polls there have been surprisingly close.
Now, it is possible that Democrats’ current polling advantage ends up fading. Biden may ultimately be a drag on Senate Democratic candidates, and their advantage may be gone by Election Day. The national environment has historically worsened for the White House party as November approaches.
Moreover, Republicans have outperformed Senate polling in recent years. In 2014, 2016 and 2020, Republican Senate candidates outperformed their final polls by an average of 3 to 5 points. (Neither side, on average, did better than their final polls in 2018.) Put another way, it’s plausible that even if Democrats continue to lead in the polls through Election Day, Republicans could still take back the Senate.
But if the Republican candidates continue to be unpopular, it shouldn’t be surprising to see their Democratic opponents maintain their leads, even with Biden’s unpopularity. Republicans blew their chance at taking control of the Senate during Barack Obama’s first midterm because of poor candidate quality, even though the President was unpopular.
And a look at 2020 data from the American National Election Studies reveals that the few voters who disliked the President (Trump) and the Senate candidate of the opposition party (the Democrat) but liked the Senate candidate of the President’s party (the Republican) almost always voted for the candidate they liked.
Democrats would more than welcome that pattern in 2022.
Facebook faces a youth revolt
One group of Americans who won’t be voting in this year’s midterms are teenagers under the age of 18. They represent, however, the pool of potential future voters and reaching them will be important to both political parties.
If Democrats and Republicans want to impart their message to today’s youth, Facebook doesn’t look like the way to go. This is the finding of a new Pew Research Center study that I briefly spoke about in my last column.
In a rather stunning development for this millennial, Facebook’s popularity with teenagers has plummeted. According to the Pew poll, just 32% of 13-17-year-olds use Facebook. That’s down from 71% in a 2014-2015 poll.
A big problem for Facebook is that it seems to not be addictive enough. Only 10% of teens say they check Facebook multiple times a day.
Compare that to the most popular social media sites: Snapchat, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Tiktok and YouTube. Multiple site or app visits per day ranged from 37% for Instagram to 60% for YouTube.
All of these sites and apps are known for letting you quickly scan many pictures and videos. While Facebook has many of those characteristics, it can have a lot of writing on it too.
Not surprisingly, the most addictive sites are the most popular social media sites and apps as well. Almost all teens in the country (95%) say they use YouTube at least a little bit. TikTok comes in second at 67%. Snapchat and Instagram come in third and fourth. Since 2014-2015, both Snapchat (41% to 59%) and Instagram (52% to 62%) have seen growth among teenagers.
The good news for Facebook is that it is still used by about 70% of American adults. But certain trends are troubling. Google search traffic for Facebook in the US is half as high as it was four years and about a fifth as high as it was about a decade ago.
The bottom line is that the once cool kid on the block may have turned old and uncool like a lot of us.
For your brief encounters: National Senior Citizens Day!
Speaking of older Americans, Sunday marks a day to celebrate the young at heart among us. And for those younger than 65, realize that you too will hopefully grow to be that old.
Indeed, senior citizens make up a larger share of the US population than they used to. They were 17% of the population last year, compared with less than 10% back in 1960.
And we’re just going to get older as a society. Seniors are projected to make up 23% of the population by 2060, according to the US Census Bureau. They’re expected to outnumber children by 2034.
Covid-19 vaccines and the youngest: A new Gallup report reveals that a majority of US parents say they do not plan on having their children under age 5 vaccinated against Covid-19. Just 14% have already done so, while 29% say they plan to. Polling shows that about 80% of all US adults are vaccinated.
The lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic: A new Pew poll shows that 26% of Americans say that keeping healthy has become more important since the pandemic began. Americans are far more split on whether socializing outside the home has become more important (21%) or less important (35%).
It’s always Alabama in college football: In comforting news to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Alabama ranks No. 1 in both the AP’s top 25 and AFCA Coaches Poll. The college football season begins next Saturday.