What voting in Kansas and New York mean for Indiana

September 6, 2022 7:00 am

Will Republicans enjoy the traditional bounce expected in a mid-term election? (Getty Images)

When I taught introductory courses on American politics, one of the things I covered was the fact that the political party in the White House almost always loses seats in the House and/or Senate in the midterm election. This is not particularly controversial since it has happened in every midterm election since 1862, except 1902, 1934, 1998, and 2002. 

This year did not look like an exception. President Biden has had low approval ratings. There has been a perceived lack of movement on Biden’s and the Democrats’ legislative agenda. There also was the fact that the top issues among voters were things like the economy in general and the cost of gas and groceries specifically. It is logical to assume the voters would want to take out their anger on the incumbent party. 

Then at least four things happened to make people think the 2022 midterms might not follow the norm. 

First, on August 2, voters in Kansas defeated a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Since Kansas is a solidly Republican state, this result got some people thinking voters were going to be mobilized to support Democratic candidates in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Second, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law on August 16. This legislation has been touted as fighting climate change, lowering health care costs, and raising taxes on corporations. Democrats said this demonstrated they could get things done. 

Then the Consumer Price Index dropped from June to July thanks in part to drops in prices for energy and gas. Certainly, voters notice reductions in prices they paid. The party in power might not suffer as much at the ballot box based on this evidence. 

Finally, on August 23, Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro in a special election for the United States House of Representatives in New York’s 19th district. Ryan’s margin of victory was approximately two points – larger than Biden’s margin of victory in 2020 in the same district. This district has matched election outcomes in the past, suggesting things might not be so bad for Democrats. 

The immediacy with which things are reported now means we get to hear experts speculate about what each new piece of evidence means. The general speculation has been there is mounting evidence that Democrats nationally might not suffer the losses expected in a “normal” year. The experts are careful to point out this evidence does not mean the Democrats will maintain control of either chamber, but that they may not lose as many seats as normally would be expected based on the historical trend.  

These events have made people wonder what might happen in Indiana. It could mean an increase in voter turnout and that might change the outcome in a race or two, but it could easily mean next to nothing in Indiana for a few reasons. 

First, Indiana held primaries in May – well before the “good news” Democrats are celebrating. Those races are set and likely include some candidates who believed they were “falling on their swords” for their party. 

Second, Republicans and Democrats had until July to fill ballot vacancies after the primary – once again before the “good news.” Republicans had far fewer vacancies than the Democrats (16% compared to 56%). There also were deadlines for candidates hoping to run as members of another party or as an independent. According to a report from the Indiana Election Division dated August 26, eight of 25 state senate races are uncontested and 42 of 100 state house races are uncontested. In five instances it is a Libertarian or independent candidate keeping a race from being uncontested. To summarize, 50 of 125 (40%) races are uncontested. 

Third, Indiana is getting some national attention, but not because of high performance by a Democrat. Indiana’s first congressional district has been held by a Democrat for decades. The incumbent is Frank Mrvan and he won the seat with 57% of the vote in 2020. This year the Republicans nominated Jennifer-Ruth Green. Her campaign is performing so well, the Cook Political Report has labeled the race as a toss up that leans toward the Democrat. 

Every race is winnable, but there has to be a candidate capable of taking advantage of the circumstances that make the race winnable. Political parties have candidates who “agree to take one for the team.” Some of them can pivot and become very legitimate challengers in an election. Others cannot. 

One of the ways for voters to know how a state or local campaign is doing is by looking at the financial resources it has. The next campaign finance report for candidates is due October 21 before noon. Those reports will be an important piece of information that can be analyzed.

Maybe the analysis will suggest a good year for Indiana Democrats, but there is quite a bit of evidence already suggesting it might not be.

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Andrew Downs
Andrew Downs

Downs is emeritus associate professor of political science at Purdue University Fort Wayne and longtime political analyst.