The US elections on November 8 will have an enormous impact on the direction of America, as well as the fate of the Democratic party.
Pundits have suggested that Democrats could conceivably retain at least one of their congressional majorities. But the behavior of the two parties points to a different conclusion: a Republican-leaning environment that’s slowly getting stronger.
Most media analysis starts and ends with the top-line polling results. Pundits look at things such as the generic congressional ballot, which measures which party a voter would hypothetically support for Congress. They also look at polls in individual races to get a clue on how candidates are faring in important contests.
These measures are driving the “close election” narrative. The Real Clear Politics generic ballot polling average has Republicans ahead by less than one point, while the FiveThirtyEight polling average has Democrats up by a similarly tiny margin. Democrats are ahead in polls in key Senate races in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia, and are close in Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. Taken together, these data indicate an election outcome that’s up for grabs.
But the parties’ spending patterns suggest something very different. Republicans are investing in races in the House and Senate that they should have no business winning in a neutral political environment. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House are spending to defend seats they have no business losing unless the terrain strongly favors Republicans. Either the parties don’t know what they’re doing, or their private data are telling them something at odds with the public data pundits analyze.
Oregon’s 6th Congressional District is a case in point. The internal poll for the Democratic nominee, Andrea Salinas, found her ahead by one point, but also found the Republicans ahead by four points on a generic ballot. This is a seat that President Joe Biden won by 13 points in 2020. It should not be up for grabs in a neutral political environment, but the Democrats’ own polls say it is. Something is not matching up.
Democratic campaign committee spending projects a similar message. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just spent over $585,000 in Oregon’s 6th District, bringing outside Democratic spending in this race to nearly $2 million.
Democrats have also spent more than $2 million defending Rep. Greg Stanton in Arizona 4th District, a Phoenix-area seat that Biden won by 10 points, and millions more defending nominees in seats that Biden carried by between seven and 13 points. That’s either incredible wastefulness or a warning sign that the national narrative is off.
Republican spending patterns shows similar indications in the opposite direction. The Senate Leadership Fund, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s primary campaign vehicle, recently added $3.3 million to support the Republican challenger to New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan.
Biden carried the state by seven points, thanks to its White college-educated voters who typically lean Democratic. Yet the SLF has now spend more than $12 million on the race with a month to go.
The combined spending patterns of the two parties paint a picture of Republicans nationally leading. California political analyst Rob Pyers has compiled an essential spreadsheet that shows all the seats the parties see as competitive enough to spend money on.
Overall, Biden carried these districts by a median of about seven points in 2020. If the party’s spending priorities accurately reflect the general shift toward Republicans from Biden’s 2020 win, when he won by four and a half points, it would suggest that Republicans are leading today by about two and a half points.
If true, Democrats have no chance of holding the House, and their chances of holding the Senate are also slim. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan would have no chance beating Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Senate race, given that Trump won the state by eight points. It would also explains why national Democrats are not spending on Ryan’s behalf despite the polls.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) all represent states that Biden won by less than three points in 2020.
A seven-point shift to the right would put them all in danger, saved potentially only because of the GOP candidate’s purported weakness. A seven-point national shift would also put Hassan in the danger zone, which explains why McConnell is spending so much to try to reel her in.
In politics, it’s always a good idea to follow the money. Following the parties’ money so far suggests the midterms are tilting toward Republicans.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.