Why Republicans Don’t Need Independent Voters in 2022
By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst
We’re all familiar with the narrative: Republicans can’t win because they’re too narrowly focused on pleasing former President Donald Trump and keeping his voters engaged. But it’s plausible Republicans don’t need independent voters to succeed in 2022.
Every election cycle there’s a fundamental question: Does each political party need to motivate their base or persuade independent voters in order to win elections? For the last 20 years, my answer has been simple: yes. It’s a pretty easy answer considering adherents to both parties make up less than 40 percent of the country.
Looking ahead to the 2022 elections, however, I’m not sure that’s the answer for Republicans in their effort to recapture the House. The GOP is within a handful of seats of the majority and have historical midterm trends and redistricting on their side. And they may not need to win over many voters in the middle to get back to the majority.
The fewer independent voters needed, the better for the GOP, considering Republicans’ reticence to do or say anything to upset Trump. Republicans are spending more time purging members from leadership or censuring some of their own members for acknowledging the certified presidential election results, rather than trying to appeal to people who voted Trump out of office. Independent voters supported Joe Biden 54% to 41%, according to the exit polls.
For a party that lost the White House, lost the Senate, and failed to take back the House last cycle, Republicans feel quite good about the state of their party. The aura of Trump’s populist coalition, including growing numbers of minority voters, has emboldened the GOP.
And because they know that history is on their side in midterm elections and that they have an advantage in redistricting, Republicans simply have no incentive to broaden the GOP tent or fear the punishment of voters if they don’t pay more attention to the middle. Instead they have prioritized turning out Trump voters again.
To put it another way, Republicans don’t believe they were punished in 2020 and don’t fear being punished in 2022 for the current direction of the party. That dynamic will guide the party’s campaign messaging and interrupt compromise on Capitol Hill. Republicans are content to wait until they are in control.
Republicans need a net gain of just five seats for a House majority, and they’re that close while holding just nine districts in which Biden outpaced Trump in 2020. With redistricting, some of those seats could be better for the GOP next year.
Overall, Republicans are in control of drawing more seats (187) compared with Democrats (74). That means Republicans could use that opportunity to shore up Biden-district Republicans including Maria Salazar (Florida’s 27th), Don Bacon (Nebraska’s 2nd) and Beth Van Duyne (Texas’ 24th).
California Reps. David Valadao (21st), Mike Garcia (25th), Young Kim (39th) and Michelle Steel (48th) also represent Biden districts but are at the mercy of the state’s citizen redistricting commission. In total, 121 seats will be drawn in states with an independent or bipartisan commission, including California.
In New York, GOP Rep. John Katko’s (24th) fate is up to Democrats. But Katko could benefit from fellow Republican Rep. Tom Reed not running for reelection; Reed’s 23rd District could be dissolved into surrounding districts. And in Pennsylvania, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (1st) will probably have a competitive district no matter what, particularly because control of the redistricting process in that state is divided. Overall, 47 seats will be drawn in states with divided partisan control.
With mapmaking authority in key states such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, Republicans could simply draw more districts that Trump would have won in 2020, allowing the party to rely less on Biden voters to get to the majority.
It’s not hard to envision a Republican majority with very few Biden districts. That’s not just because of the potential redistricting outcomes, but because of differences in turnout from a presidential cycle to a midterm cycle.
Turnout will be down in 2022 compared with 2020 because it’s always lower in midterm elections (at least going back to well before the Civil War). The key factor is whether turnout is down disproportionately between the two parties. Without the threat of Trump in the Oval Office or having him on the ballot, fewer Democrats may vote compared with Republicans, who are anxious to send a message to Democratic-controlled Washington. If that happens, districts where Biden finished ahead of Trump could be easier GOP targets.
While Republicans could gain control of Congress in 2022, that doesn’t mean there aren’t longer-term warning signs for the GOP. At some point, potentially as soon as 2024, they will need a broader coalition than the one they have now.
For now, the GOP is still Trump’s party, Republicans aren’t going to change their behavior anytime soon, and their strategy could land them the House majority next year.
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