Elections pick politicians, but they also create stories. Stories about how Russian bots and Facebook memes stole the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton, or how Richard Nixon’s TV flop sweat cost him the White House in 1960. Or how outside mega-spending drove Democratic turnout up and, with the overwhelming help of young voters, Republicans like Don Bolduc and Karoline Leavitt lost seats they could have won.
All interesting stories.
And all wrong.
Russia didn’t steal the presidency from Democrats in 2016. The Dems gave it up when they nominated one of the least popular politicians in U.S. history. One TV appearance didn’t cost “Tricky Dick” Nixon the election. Being Richard Nixon, running against a smart, good-looking Kennedy, and having Democrats (probably) steal Illinois and Texas did.
Like the ads during election campaigns, most of the stories told in the aftermath are less than factual. And that was definitely the case in 2022.
There are still lessons to be learned and data to be sorted from November, but a few commonly heard claims have already been disproven. Starting with turnout.
“In state after state, the final turnout data shows that registered Republicans turned out at a higher rate — and in some places, a much higher rate — than registered Democrats, including in many of the states where Republicans were dealt some of their most embarrassing losses,” reports The New York Times’ number cruncher, Nate Cohn.
Cohn looked at states like Arizona, Nevada, New York, and North Carolina. And he found that Republicans consistently turned out at higher rates than their Democratic counterparts. For example, in Maricopa County, Ariz., 75 percent of Republicans cast votes last month, but just 69 percent of Democrats did the same. In Clark County (aka “Las Vegas”) Nev., it was 67 percent of registered GOP voters and just 57 percent of Democrats.
There are also reports that voters under 30 turned out at an unusually high rate for a midterm — a Tufts University analysis said it was the second highest in 30 years. But that rate was an unimpressive 28 percent. (The highest was 31 percent in 2018.) The overall turnout in the Granite State was twice that rate.
And a new Associated Press report found that while under 30 voters supported Democratic candidates over the GOP 53 to 41 percent, that rate was was significantly lower than their 61-36 percent pro-Democrat vote in 2020 and 64-34 percent in 2018. In other words, the Democrats’ lock on younger voters has been getting weaker, not stronger.
“Youngest people also have the weakest partisan attachments, so they can be more susceptible to partisan swings nationally,” said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida and an expert on voting and data. “There’s no reason why Republicans can’t rebound among younger people.”
Granite State Republicans still in denial about their “candidate quality” problem have used this factually incorrect conventional wisdom about young voters and Democratic turnout to push back against the argument that their candidates lost because they picked weak candidates. While the partisan breakdown of who showed up in the Granite State is not yet known, we do know that 352,000 of the 627,000 Granite Staters who voted were willing to cast a ballot for Gov. Chris Sununu. So why not vote for the other Republicans on the ticket, too?
Instead, Sununu outperformed the rest of the field by about 75,000 votes. Part of that was the power of incumbency and name ID — but not all of it. Some of those 75,000 Sununu voters knew plenty about Bolduc and Leavitt. And they voted against them. Using data from the Fox News exit polls, Aliza Astrow with the group Third Way projects that Bolduc not only lost 50 percent of independent voters to Sen. Maggie Hassan but also seven percent of his own Republican voters, too.
By comparison, Sununu lost just two percent of GOP voters in his race, and he picked up plenty of Democrats.
In state after state, weak Republican candidates like Bolduc, Herschel Walker in Georgia, and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania lost, not due to Democratic turnout but, as Astrow put it, “Democrats’ ability to win a majority of independent voters, their ability to win these swing voters by wide margins, and to persuade some Republican voters to abandon Republican candidates.”
Defenders of Bolduc and Leavitt say money made the difference.
“Yes, Bolduc was viewed as too extreme on abortion and Social Security,” one source close to the campaign said. “Both lies. But putting $40+ million behind them tends to do that.”
And it is true Hassan raised more than $41 million to his $4.1 million. But it is also true another $12 million came into support Bolduc from outside groups and another $13.5 million was spent targeting Hassan. She still had a huge cash advantage, but thanks to outside spending, Bolduc had enough money to make his case.
Hassan beat Bolduc by about the same margin that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in New Hampshire two years earlier.
In the First Congressional District, the final spending was actually very close. While Rep. Chris Pappas outraised GOP challenger Karoline Leavitt $5 million to $3.6 million, the outside spending edge favored her. And yet Leavitt’s margin of defeat in a GOP-leaning district (8 percent) wasn’t far from Bolduc’s (9 percent.)
The Democrats’ cash advantage shouldn’t be ignored, and Granite State Republicans need to be thinking today about how they are going to address it — perhaps starting with their choices for state party chair and vice chair. (Bolduc, who raised one-tenth of Hassan’s haul, is running for vice chair.)
Democrats also get a boost by running in the state with the country’s highest number of college students per capita.
But in an election year when 75,000 more voters picked the Republican governor in New Hampshire, and 3 million more nationwide supported a Republican for Congress than a Democrat, plenty of votes were available to give the GOP a victory.
Instead, Republicans found a way to lose. The numbers don’t lie.
Not the real ones, anyway.