A few days before the midterm elections, we asked how big a partisan wave the Republicans might put together. For the seventh consecutive campaign cycle, we offered a series of questions designed to gauge the size of that potential wave, based on who won and lost races up and down the ballot. We constructed a sliding scale that awarded more credit to the GOP if its final results exceeded the conventional wisdom going into Election Day.
As most everyone knows by now, the GOP performance turned out to be underwhelming at best. Our factors below quantify just how underwhelming it was.
1. How many of these U.S. Senate races do the Republicans win?
Republicans won three of the races on our list: Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio. Democrats won five: Colorado, New Hampshire, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania. And Georgia has gone to a runoff, though with Democrats now guaranteed to hold a Senate majority.
If Republican Herschel Walker wins the Georgia Senate runoff, that will add up to four Republican wins in the states on our list, meaning a “disappointing night for the Republicans.” If Democrat Raphael Warnock wins the Georgia runoff, then the Republicans will have won three of these seats, or “very disappointing night for the Republicans.”
2. How many net seats in the U.S. House do the Republicans gain?
This question is a little up in the air due to ongoing ballot counting, but the broad outline is becoming clearer.
Setting aside vacancies from deaths and early retirements, the pre-election breakdown between the parties in the House was 222 Democrats and 213 Republicans. To win a majority in the House, 218 seats is the bare minimum.
NBC News is projecting a final Republican number of 219, plus or minus four seats. That means GOP seats could range anywhere from 215 seats (meaning a small Democratic majority) to 223 seats (a small Republican majority).
If the GOP reaches the NBC News target of 219 seats exactly, that would rate as an “OK night for the Republicans.” They would, after all, control the chamber — by the slimmest of margins.
If the GOP wins the maximum projection of 223 seats, they will tip barely into the “good night for the Republicans” category. And if they underperform at 215 seats, meaning a continued Democratic majority, it will be a “disappointing night for the Republicans.”
3. How many House Democratic incumbents lose?
So far, the GOP has ousted six House Democratic incumbents in the general election: Tom O’Halleran of Arizona, Al Lawson of Florida, Cindy Axne of Iowa, Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Elaine Luria of Virginia. While a handful of other Democratic-held seats haven’t been officially called yet, the Democrat is leading in each of them.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The ouster of six Democratic incumbents rates as an “OK night for the Republicans.” But that doesn’t fully capture the GOP’s weakness on election day: Three House Republican incumbents also lost — Steve Chabot of Ohio, Mayra Flores of Texas and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico — and there’s an outside chance that more will lose when all the ballots are counted.
Since I didn’t expect so many GOP incumbents to lose, I neglected in the initial article to specify between total Democratic incumbent losses and net Democratic incumbent losses. If you do use the metric of net incumbent losses rather than Democratic incumbent losses, this factor rates as a “disappointing night for the Republicans.”
Whatever metric you use, it’s an underwhelming showing for the GOP.
4. How large is the net partisan shift in the control of the governorships toward the Republicans?
This election produced relatively few partisan flips in the governorships.
As expected, the Democrats picked up two previously Republican governorships in Massachusetts and Maryland, following the nomination of Republican candidates who were widely considered too conservative for voters in those solidly blue states.
One of the bright spots for the Republicans this midterm was seeing its nominee in Nevada, Joe Lombardo, oust the Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak. The GOP’s gain in Nevada would limit the party’s net losses to one governorship.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, Democrat Katie Hobbs defeated Republican Kari Lake. Arizona’s governorship is being vacated by Republican Doug Ducey, so Hobbs’ victory pushes the Democrats’ net gubernatorial gains to two seats. While Alaska’s race hasn’t been called, it’s expected to remain in Republican hands. So the governorships rank as a “disappointing night for the Republicans.”
5. How large is the net partisan shift in the control of state legislative chambers toward the Republicans?
In a surprise, the Democrats flipped at least three legislative chambers — both chambers in Michigan and the Minnesota Senate. Two other chambers — the Pennsylvania House and the New Hampshire House — may see Democratic flips but for now are too close to call. Arizona’s Republican-held House and Senate could also flip; there, the votes are still being counted. Meanwhile, the Democrats have defended all of their chambers at risk of a GOP takeover.
So the Democrats will net at least three chambers, and possibly more. Regardless of the final number, any net gain for the Democrats counts as a “disappointing night for the Republicans.”
6. How many of the following Trump-aligned attorney general and secretary of state candidates win?
Voters mostly rejected Trump-aligned Republican nominees for the key down-ballot races of secretary of state and attorney general.
Republican secretary of state candidates lost in each of the five states we listed: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Michigan and Minnesota. And GOP nominees for attorney general lost in Michigan and Nevada, while the Democrat is narrowly leading in Arizona. The one sure Republican winner was Kris Kobach in Kansas.
Whether the GOP ends up with either one win or two, they will qualify for “OK night for Republicans.”
7. In how many states does the liberal side prevail in the following ballot measures?
Liberals had a pretty good night with ballot measures. They swept the five abortion measures — passing pro-abortion rights measures in California, Michigan and Vermont, and blocking anti-abortion measures in Kentucky and Montana. Voters approved a Medicaid expansion in South Dakota, a collective bargaining guarantee in Illinois and minimum wage hikes everywhere it was on the ballot: Nebraska, Nevada and Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, measures that would expand rights for immigrants passed in Massachusetts and was leading narrowly in Arizona.
The biggest conservative wins came on the recreational use of marijuana. Voters rejected it in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota. But on balance, liberals did pretty well on drug-related measures: Voters legalized marijuana in Maryland and Missouri, and they approved legalization of some psychedelic drugs in Colorado.
Overall, liberals won at least 14 of these measures, and depending on the results in Arizona, possibly 15. Either way, it counts as a “disappointing night for Republicans.”
8. How many more Republican-leaning candidates win compared to Democratic-leaning candidates in contested judicial races or retention elections in these states?
State supreme courts were something of a bright spot for Republicans in this year’s midterms.
The GOP swept both seats being contested on North Carolina’s court and all three seats on Ohio’s court; notably, both courts are expected to have major sway on mid-decade redistricting of congressional and legislative seats.
Democrats did better in the three remaining states on our list. Democrats won both contested supreme court seats in Illinois. In Montana, where justices are officially nonpartisan, one conservative justice was reelected, but a GOP-backed challenger to another incumbent lost. And in Michigan, the status quo prevailed, with a Republican-backed incumbent and a Democratic-backed incumbent both winning new terms, keeping the court under 4-3 Democratic control.
That adds up to seven Republican-won seats, making it the only factor of eight we looked at that qualifies unreservedly as a “good night for Republicans.”
Three of the eight categories here produced clear “disappointing” ratings for the GOP, and another two or three might end up in the “disappointing” category when all the counting is done. The only clear positive for Republicans was a “good” night on supreme court races.
In our factors, there’s not a single “very good,” “extremely good” or “extraordinarily good” rating in sight. So the answer to whether there was a red wave on election night is plain: No way.
We’ll try this again in two years.
Louis Jacobson is a senior correspondent at PolitiFact.com.