GOP won 3 million more votes this year, but not where it counted


Republicans lead Democrats by roughly 3.5 million votes when all 435 House elections are combined, in what analysts call a clear but not overwhelming signal of voters’ preference for the Republican Party.

Some ballots are still being tallied, chiefly in California, which means Democrats will make up ground. Still, analysts said, Republicans will end up with a lead of about 3 percentage points.

In any normal year, that would be good enough to net about 25 seats and give Republicans 230 seats — a firm majority. Instead, Republicans are poised to hold no more than 222 seats, a net gain of about 10.

It’s the latest evidence that Republicans bungled their chances this year, and it has fueled a search for answers as to why they didn’t do better.

The emerging consensus is that they ran up the vote in places where they didn’t need it.

“Simply put, Republicans picked up the votes they needed, just not where they needed them most,” Charlie Cook, a longtime analyst and founder of the Cook Political Report, wrote in a post-election piece. “Clearly something or someone intervened, affecting the outcome of the election in the places that mattered.”

Democrats have faced the problem for years as they win urban districts such as San Francisco with tallies topping 90% of the vote.

Now Republicans see the same results in places such as Alabama, where they won six of seven districts. The closest any of the Democrats came in those races was 37 points behind.

Democrats, meanwhile, gambled a bit this year on spreading out their votes in states where they controlled redistricting after the 2020 census.

It paid off. The party held seats that got marginally better for Republicans in Virginia, Maryland and Nevada, said Michael McKenna, a Republican operative and a top legislative aide in the Trump White House.

“This is the first cycle inside a redistricting cycle. My guess is two years from now they’re going to regret this,” Mr. McKenna said.

He said many first-time Republican candidates came close to capturing Democratic-held seats and some of them will likely run again with better results two years from now.

Analysts said Republicans improved their margins among Black and Hispanic voters, often in districts where it didn’t make much difference to the outcome.

Democrats, meanwhile, improved their standing among college-educated unmarried women, helping hold suburban districts that might otherwise have flipped.

Mr. McKenna said he would rather be on the Republican side of that trend.

“What it tells me is we are in the middle of a national realignment, and that’s going to benefit the Republicans,” he said.

As of Thursday morning, Republicans had collected 53.924 million votes in House races. Democrats had 50.436 million votes, according to the tally reported by, an election data website.

For Republicans, that was 3 million more than they got in 2018, the last midterm election year. Democrats, meanwhile, are 10.3 million votes short of their 60.7 million votes in 2018.

Democrats emerged from the 2018 elections with a 235-199 edge in the House.

In 2016, Republicans emerged with a narrow 1.2-percentage-point lead over Democrats in House elections. That worked out to a 241-193 split in favor of Republicans.

In this year’s Senate races, Republicans and Democrats have won roughly equivalent votes: Republicans at 39.196 million and Democrats at 39.247 million as of Thursday.

Senate races are less useful as a yardstick because only a third of seats — or two-thirds of states — are on the ballot each election.

In House and Senate races, Republicans were more thrifty. They spent less than Democrats for each vote.

Republicans spent a combined $1.19 billion on House and Senate races, according to TheGreenPapers’ tally, which works out to $12.66 per vote. Democrats spent $1.49 billion, or $16.56 per vote. That is roughly 30% more per vote than Republicans.

David Shor, a Democratic data scientist, told the Niskanen Center’s “Science of Politics” podcast that Democrats “outperformed” in swing races. Turnout for their candidates was about 2 percentage points better than in non-swing races.

“It really seems like there was a red wave everywhere in the country except for the places that mattered,” Mr. Shor said.

John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based analyst who runs JMC Analytics and Polling, said he figures the final difference will be closer to about 2 percentage points, with Republicans in the lead.

That’s good news for pollsters, who seem to have forecast the elections about right. The final average of “generic ballot” polling, where voters are asked whether they plan to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in their local House race, was about 2 percentage points, Mr. Couvillon said.

Beneath those numbers were different elections playing out in various spots. Florida was very much a Republican wave, while Michigan and Pennsylvania were Democratic strongholds.

In Arizona, Republicans captured two House seats even as they lost the governorship and failed to win a Senate seat. Republicans captured the governorship in Nevada but failed to oust three Democratic House incumbents who were seen as vulnerable.

Mr. Couvillon said Republicans needed to win seats where President Biden garnered 50% to 55% of the vote in 2020.

He said those seats were controlled by “transactional Biden voters,” who backed the president last time but were persuadable. Mr. Couvillon said they helped Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin capture the governorship in Virginia last year, but the Republican Party didn’t manage to persuade many this time.

“All these seats that were in the Biden 50-55% range — very few of them flipped,” he said.

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