Biden votes early in Delaware for November midterms
By SEUNG MIN KIM The Associated Press
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President Joe Biden — accompanied by one of his granddaughters, a first-time voter — cast his midterm ballot on Saturday.
In-person early voting in his home state of Delaware, where Biden regularly returns for weekends, began Friday. Democrats nationwide have encouraged voters to take advantage of early voting, either by mail-in ballots or at precincts where available to maximize turnout.
Biden said he was feeling good about the midterms, which will decide control of Congress for the next two years.
In the final days before the Nov. 8 elections, Biden plans to step up his campaign travels with scheduled trips to Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico and Maryland to stump for Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
“I’m going to be spending the rest of the time making the case that this is not a referendum. It is a choice. A fundamental choice,” he said. “A choice between two very different visions for the country.”
Biden voted alongside his granddaughter Natalie, who is 18 years old. He also voted in Delaware last month, when he made a quick, one-day trip for the state’s Sept. 13 primaries.
Delaware has no competitive congressional races this cycle.
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Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's sweeping four-term presidency, every president has fallen victim to the "midterm curse."
The "curse" is considered political shorthand at this point—the opposition party to the incumbent leader will wrest control of the House of Representatives or the Senate from the leadership. In fact, the sitting presidential party has lost seats in the House in every single midterm election since FDR's first term, save for three: FDR himself in 1934, Bill Clinton in 1998 during his second term in office, and George W. Bush in 2002 fresh off a hotly contested victory in the 2000 general election. In each of these instances, the presidents had remarkably high approval ratings—around 70%—often due to historic moments that offered an opportunity for landmark leadership, such as FDR's New Deal, Clinton's federal budget surplus, and Bush's handling of the aftermath of 9/11.
There are a variety of explanations as to why parties often face defeat in the midterms after sweeping the floor in the presidential election. Voter apathy and presidential approval ratings play a large part, but voters are not the only ones who sway the outcome of elections. Midterm elections are susceptible to impacts from the re-drawing of districts and gerrymandering that may occur after a presidential election and can work to disenfranchise a party's voting block. This is not a phenomenon isolated to the U.S., either: The parties of political leaders across the globe tend to strengthen early in a presidential term before diminishing later.
The incumbent party lost control of either the House or the House and Senate six times since 1934. Only three presidents—FDR, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush—gained seats in the House of Representatives for their parties at midterms.
In FDR's case, this was thanks to his swift decisions steering the country out of the Great Depression, including the New Deal and various economic relief measures. Clinton's second term in office marked the first Democratic president to gain a second term since FDR. Though his popularity was beginning to falter due to emerging personal scandals—including the Monica Lewinsky situation, which saw Clinton face impeachment for lying to Congress—it hadn't yet hit the low that would follow. Bush's midterms were a narrow race to win an easily swayed power balance, marked by gerrymandering and expensive campaigns that ultimately favored the incumbent party.
Statewide Senate races are not impacted by redistricting but still often suffer the same outcome for the president's party. For most of the 20th century, Senate races were often won by the opposite party than the state in question had gone for in the presidential race. In 1986, for instance, the "mismatch rate" of U.S. Senate races was around 59%, meaning over half of states voted into office senators of the opposite party than they had voted for president most recently. This has waned in intensity recently—particularly during Obama's presidency—but still generally held. However, the 2022 election cycle may mark a departure from this tradition, with only 4% of registered voters claiming they planned to vote for a senator from a different party than they had endorsed for president.
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Midterm elections tend to be considered referenda on the party in power. As a result, the electability of Congressional members is increasingly tied to the public's attitude toward the president. Swing seats have consistently gone to the nonincumbent party when public approval of the current president is low, and the inverse when the public believes their administration is doing well.
Since FDR's presidency, presidents with a low public approval rating have lost an average of 37 congressional seats during midterms. Only two presidents—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—have had a public approval rating above 60% during midterm elections; consequently, they have been the only two presidents in recent history to avoid the "midterm curse."
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Voters generally turn out in lower numbers for midterms than for presidential elections. In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, respectively, only 4 in 10 eligible voters turned up to the polls, whereas 6 in 10 voted in the 2016 general election. However, the drive to overturn the actions of an unfavorable president can be a powerful antidote to voting apathy. A good example of this was the 2018 midterms, in which, according to an analysis by Catalist, "young voters and voters of color, particularly Latinx voters, were a substantially larger share of the electorate than in past midterms." These voters were majority Democrats, voting in opposition to the Republican incumbent, Donald Trump. That year, midterm surge voting leaped up, and it was "clear that both mobilization and persuasion were critically important in producing this scale of victory for Democrats."
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In sum, the 2022 midterms will likely follow the patterns laid out here. All seats in the House of Representatives are up for the taking and a third of those in the Senate. President Joe Biden's approval rating—40% as of Oct. 20—is on the lower end of historical midterm rates for an incumbent president, suggesting that, if historic precedent holds, Republicans will gain seats on Nov. 8. However, some factors may exert outside influence on the midterm results.
The Democratic Party has been experiencing the same mobilization that spurred a midterm surge during Trump's presidency, this time regarding issues such as abortion rights and inflation. Voters in Kansas recently turned up in record numbers to vote down measures that would restrict abortion access; elsewhere in the country, local and state legislatures have taken up steps and earmarked funds protecting the right to choose in repudiation of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.