Who's going to win the midterms?

Are we in for a red wave, a red drizzle, or a stunning Democratic upset?

It's the question on everyone's minds: Which party will prevail in the 2022 midterms? Will it be the Democrats, desperate to hold onto their congressional majorities despite a historically likely loss? Or will it be the Republicans, eager to capitalize on rising prices and President Biden's low approval ratings? It's a landscape that might mold and morph a million times before election day, especially if Democrats continue their recent string of legislative wins, or the economy takes an inflation-related dip.

Below, we'll take a look at the current state of play — and offer up some analysis as to how certain policies, issues, and initiatives could affect the race, if at all.

The latest:

Is the red wave … back? Though it seemed like Democrats might actually avoid the typical midterms walloping, the GOP is once again making gains among voters, likely emboldened by recent inflation data, a depressed stock market, and the possibility of higher gas prices following OPEC production cuts. Historically speaking, the minority party in government almost always makes gains in a first-term president's first midterm election, and updated surveys appear to support that precedent: A New York Times and Siena College poll conducted between Oct. 9 and Oct. 12 found that 49 percent of likely voters plan to vote for a Republican for Congress on Nov. 8, versus 45 percent who plan to vote for a Democrat. That's notably "an improvement for Republicans" since the September poll, when Democrats held a one-point edge among likely voters," the Times writes before noting the October figures are rounded and therefore closer to a 3-point margin than 4. But overall, "the conditions that helped Democrats gain over the summer" — like anger over gun violence and abortion — "no longer seem to be in place," the Times notes. By some estimations (at least Politico's and FiveThirtyEight's), the race for Senate control remains a toss-up. But it's different over in the House, where Republicans are still favored to win

Inflation and recession fears

Whether it's gas, groceries, or rent, rising prices are currently top of mind for every American. In fact, inflation was the number one voter-cited issue in the Times/Siena College poll from early October (and yet another hot inflation report for September, which is likely to be followed by another interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve, doesn't help). "The share of likely voters who said economic concerns were the most important issues facing America has leaped since July, to 44 percent from 36 percent — far higher than any other issue, the Times estimates. "And voters most concerned with the economy favored Republicans overwhelmingly, by more than a two-to-one margin." That consensus aligns with the results of an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll conducted between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1, which found Republicans to have "a 39 percent to 26 percent advantage over Democrats when people are asked who would be better at handling the economy," NPR reports. Not to mention that 57 percent of those surveyed, including 63 percent of independents, believe Biden's initiatives have ultimately weakened the economy.

Compounding all of this, of course, are renewed fears of a recession, which have crept back into the collective consciousness despite Biden having recently told CNN's Jake Tapper he doesn't "anticipate" a downturn happening. In working to "put a positive spin on the economy," Biden has tried to highlight how "inflation is a worldwide problem," per the Times.


Reproductive rights have found their way onto the ballot this election season after a June Supreme Court ruling overturned federal abortion protections as established under 1973's Roe v. Wade. Democrats have remained hopeful that the decision, which they've widely decried, will galvanize voters at the ballot box, and encourage them to push back on what the party has described as GOP-led attacks on the rights of birthing individuals. Republicans, meanwhile, while initially loud in their support of the ruling (which returns the issue of abortion to the states), have begun somewhat backing off the related rhetoric, worried they might alienate an average conservative or independent voter with a more extreme-sounding talking point.

Though the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision initially injected urgency into the November contests, leading "some in the GOP to brace for a much closer fight this fall than expected," per The Washington Post, a lot of that chutzpah has since faded. Democrats are still running on the issue, but the people that really care about it "were probably largely voting to begin with," Republican strategist Derek Ryan told The Texas Tribune. "They were probably already engaged" and "taken … into the equation, if you will." Similarly, Danielle Kurtzleben told NPR's All Things Considered that, while enthusiasm around abortion rights remains "very strong among the people who care," it's "hard to imagine Democrats swinging someone over to their side on this." 

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is concerned about the party's myopia with abortion, urging Democrats to campaign on issues lest they push away voters more concerned about the economy. "It bothers me, bothers me very much that Republicans in poll after poll are actually leading in terms of how people feel each party will respond to the economy, when in fact the Republicans have nothing to say for working families on the economy," Sanders told Vanity Fair on Monday afternoon. "A woman's right to control her own body" is on the line, yes, "but we're also dealing with some very serious economic issues that have got to be addressed." 

"Abortion is important," Sanders continued. "But should it be 80 percent of your discussion? Or should you start talking about what the American people feel deeply concerned about? Poll after poll says, inflation, economics are at the top of the list of most Americans."

Robin Ackerman, a 37-year-old Democrat, proves Sanders' hypothesis: "I'm shifting more towards Republican because I feel like they're more geared towards business," she told the Times, noting she vehemently disagreed with overturning Roe v. Wade but is "more worried about other things."

Legislative wins

After lots and lots of gridlock, Senate Democrats back in July jammed through their flagship climate and health spending package, finally handing the party something shiny and new to brag about on the campaign trail. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is now law, includes roughly $369 billion in green initiatives, as well as multiple provisions to lower prescription drug costs for those on Medicare. The president can also now hang his hat on the bipartisan gun law, negotiated in the wake of multiple devastating mass shootings, and the cross-aisle CHIPS Act, which will bolster semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. All in all, the spate of legislative achievements has afforded Democrats something to run on "while countering accusations of a do-nothing Congress," The New York Times muses.

Student debt cancellation 

Lest we forget, Biden at the end of August canceled $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers making under $125,000 a year — a polarizing decision, sure, but one quite conveniently timed around the midterm elections. As for campaign material, the new policy afforded Republicans the chance to frame the forgiveness plan as an entitled, socialist bailout that could worsen inflation at taxpayers' expense, notes USA Today. The party was then handed even more ammo in late September when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its estimate that the plan will cost the government about $400 billion

Though surely Biden and the Democrats hoped the unprecedented cancelation would provide an election boon, particularly among young voters, the program did recently hit a snag: Applications are now "in limbo" after an appeals court halted the relief process while Republican-led legal challenges play out, per CBS News. Such a roadblock "may increase financial anxiety for borrowers especially as the student debt repayment hiatus, instituted during the pandemic, expires in December," the outlet notes. We'll see what kind of taste that leaves in voters' mouths.

All in all, expect Republicans to market this issue to the 80-some percent of American adults without federal student loans, while Democrats work to galvanize the 85 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds that back some sort of government-led student debt relief, according to a Harvard University poll.

Donald Trump and the Mar-a-Lago raid

The midterms are often treated as a referendum on the president and party in power, but after a recent FBI raid on Donald Trump's Florida mansion, they're now at least somewhat about the former president — perhaps to Republicans' dismay and detriment. Before the raid, the GOP had been "blessed with campaign gold," David Drucker wrote for The Washington Examiner: With inflation up and Democrats shouldering the blame, it would have been all too easy for Republicans to ride an economy-focused platform to victory in November. But now the fallout from the raid "promises to keep a focus on Trump," rather than on issues and talking points Republicans could actually use to win, Mark Niquette wrote for Bloomberg. "If Republicans veer right and abandon inflation for Trump the persecuted, their critical advantage with independents could shrink, in some cases enough to cost them dearly," Drucker added. 

There's also the chance most GOP voters won't care about the investigation against Trump and will instead find themselves all the more motivated to turn out and vote red. "Some people are mad over Mar-a-Lago. But I think most of it is going to be about how it impacts your family," Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said of his current read on the midterms, as quoted by Insider. "I think the FBI revved up the [GOP] base — by doing the raid and not telling anyone why they did it."

"Donald Trump is never as strong as when he's being attacked," added pollster Frank Luntz, speaking with USA Today. "He plays the victim better than any elected official I've ever seen and his voters love it." Meanwhile, though, "everyone else is sick of it and it turns them off," Luntz continued.

By the numbers, 65 percent of voters believe it was inappropriate for Trump to remove sensitive documents from the White House at the end of his term, while 26 percent believe he was in line in doing so, according to a Fox News poll conducted Sept. 9-12. Further, 56 percent of voters think the FBI acted appropriately in raiding Mar-a-Lago, while 39 percent believe the opposite.

Update Oct. 25, 2022: This story has been updated throughout to reflect current poll numbers and qualitative analysis.


The train derailment disaster in Ohio
Black smoke above East Palestine, Ohio.

The train derailment disaster in Ohio

DeSantis plays both sides in comments on a possible Trump indictment
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Talking point

DeSantis plays both sides in comments on a possible Trump indictment

The daily business briefing: March 20, 2023
A First Republic Bank in California
Business briefing

The daily business briefing: March 20, 2023

10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2023
Xi Jinping waves from a plane in Moscow
Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2023

Most Popular

The truth about alcohol
Alcohol being poured into a rocks glass.

The truth about alcohol

North Korea claims 800,000 people volunteered to fight against the U.S.
North Korean soldiers march in a parade in 2018.
A Frightening Figure

North Korea claims 800,000 people volunteered to fight against the U.S.

Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy losses
Ukrainian tank fires near Bakhmut

Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy losses