The 2022 Election Could Alter Reality for Government Affairs Teams
If you think the 2022 election is just another midterm, think again. The outcome in November will alter the landscape for almost every single government affairs team at work today. Here's the state of play.
For those thinking that the 2022 election is just another midterm, consider this: the outcome is likely to alter the course of almost every major issue that is part of the national conversation.
With control of Congress, 46 state legislatures and 36 gubernatorial seats at stake, it is hard to think of a major issue that will remain unchanged. Reproductive rights, pandemic recovery, gun control, immigration, race relations and dozens of other issues could all take a new path based on the outcome.
More than 7,000 seats will face voters up and down the ballot, and the number of candidates could be almost twice that. Major changes in state election laws and a decennial redistricting will also affect voting. More than 110 million people will be casting ballots from a new federal, state or local district.
Taken together, the implication is clear: the outcome in November will alter the landscape for almost every single government affairs team at work today, both in Washington and in all 50 states. Your grassroots and lobbying strategies, your allies and opponents, and the climate you operate in can all change in important ways. It pays to get engaged.
Changes in the Federal Government
Control of both the House and Senate is up for grabs in November, with both currently in Democratic hands by the thinnest of margins.
The House is narrowly controlled by Democrats 220-210, with five vacant seats (four formerly held by Republicans and one by a Democrat). It takes 218 seats to reach a majority and all 435 voting seats are up for election. The common wisdom, and historical precedent, holds that Republicans will pick up seats and have a solid chance of gaining control. The president’s party has lost house seats in 19 of the last 21 midterm elections.
The Senate is split 50-50, factoring in two independent members who caucus with Democrats. Democrats currently control the chamber by virtue of the vice president’s tie-breaking vote, though they are hampered by Senate rules that enable the minority to block legislation. Thirty-four seats are up for regular election this year, meaning 15 Republicans and 13 Democrats will be on the ballot, along with six open seats (five of which were held by Republicans). The outcome in the Senate is less certain than in the House.
There are also some additional complexities in the Senate. There is a special election in Oklahoma to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who was last elected in 2021 and will step down in 2023. In California, there is a special situation created by a quirk of election law when Vice President Kamala Harris left the Senate. A special election will be held to fill the final weeks of her term and the regular election will determine who holds the seat for the next six years. Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, who was appointed to fill Harris’s term, will run in both elections.
Overall, the wind is blowing against Democrats on the national stage. President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, severe inflation and the ongoing impact of the pandemic all present challenges. On the other hand, politics is a local game and it can change substantially in the months before Election Day. For example, the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade case supporting abortion rights could energize Democratic voters.
Whatever the outcome, any chance to pass major bills, such as legislation to codify abortion rights, will hang in the balance. But that’s not all. The political landscape could also be reshaped:
- Joe Biden’s Agenda. If Republicans take either chamber of Congress, it will deal a major blow to the administration’s ability to move legislation and project its message. Thin margins and Senate rules have made it difficult for the administration to pass major bills without bipartisan support, but the obstacles will grow substantially if Republicans take even one chamber. Gridlock and the pending presidential election would make major legislation unlikely in the next two years.
- The 2024 Presidential Race. The party that dominates the midterm will carry momentum into the next presidential contest. Republican victories in the midterm could mean headwinds for Biden. His approval rating was 41% in June, according to Gallup, 15 points lower than the average for U.S. presidents at this point in their term, which is 56%.
- Donald Trump’s Political Future. Though Trump has come under fire as Congress investigates his role in the riot at the capitol Jan. 6 of 2021, he remains the titular head of his party and the presumed frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024, should he make his run official. Though he lost the 2020 election, Trump gained more than 73 million votes, more than any other sitting U.S. president. If Trump-backed candidates win this year, it will boost Trump’s momentum and make it harder for other Republicans to challenge him for the party’s nomination.
- Republican Party Direction. The election will have major import for the direction of the Republican Party, whose leaders are split between those who support Donald Trump and those who are more traditional Republicans. If Trump-supported candidates win their congressional races, it will boost his wing of the party.
- Congressional Investigations. If Republicans control the House, the subject and tenor of congressional investigations and oversight will change. As The New York Times reported, Republicans have already vowed to “conduct high-profile inquiries into Hunter Biden, the president’s son; the administration’s handling of migrants at the border; and the chaotic exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.”
Changes in State Governments
While the federal balance of power is important, changes in the states could have more direct impact on government affairs teams. States pass a great deal more legislation than the Congress and many of the issues dominating the national conversation, such as abortion rights, gun control, pandemic recovery and voting rights, are now effectively regulated by the states. This makes partisan control of state governments more important, and the election numbers show that this year’s midterm has the potential to bring about a great deal of change.
- New Gubernatorial Voices. Fully 72% of the nation’s gubernatorial seats are on the ballot. Republicans hold 28 governorships nationwide compared to 22 for Democrats. Of the 36 gubernatorial seats up for grabs this year, 20 are held by Republicans and 16 are held by Democrats. There will almost certainly be a new crop of governors for government affairs teams to work with when the smoke clears.
- State Legislative Balance. With legislatures facing voters in 46 states (the exceptions are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia) more than 6,000 state legislative seats will be on the ballot. That means many, many more new faces for GA teams to meet. It could also impact the partisan balance nationwide. Right now, 61% of legislatures are controlled by Republicans and 35% by Democrats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Divided legislatures are rare. (The counts do not include Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature with members elected on a nonpartisan basis.)
- One-Party Control. The number of states in which one party controls both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, sometimes called a “trifecta,” is worth watching. Republicans currently hold 23 states and Democrats hold 14, with 12 states operating under divided control (not counting Nebraska), according to the NCSL.
The early numbers already show that change is brewing. The number of state legislative races with contested primaries is up 35% over 2020, according to Ballotpedia. Among incumbents, 4.6% have already lost their primaries. That’s 121 lawmakers, including 20 Democrats and 101 Republicans.
Of course, there are more offices facing voters as you travel down the ballot, including statewide positions like treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state. At least 146 of these offices will be decided in November nationwide. There are also local races, such as city and county councils.
Lookup the Action By State
|State||U.S. House||U.S. Senate||Governor||Lieutenant Governor||State House||State Senate|
|District of Columbia||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Northern Mariana Islands^||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
An Increase in Diversity and Equality
Regardless of partisan outcome, one area that could see changes this year is diversity and equality. The last election saw a record number of women occupy congressional seats, increasing to 145 (27%). Openly LGBTQ+ candidates also saw increases in Congress, now numbering 11 (2%).
Yet, in a world where women represent 51% of the U.S. population and LGBTQ Americans represent 7% to 8%, we are still far short of equal representation. While that is not going to change in a single election, the numbers show that this year could bring additional gains.
More women are running for statewide offices than ever before, Axios reported in April. That includes 64 running for U.S. Senate and 65 running for governor. With Black women running for governor in seven states, America could see a Black female governor for the first time in U.S. history.
A report by the LGBTQ Victory Fund showed that 101 openly LGBTQ candidates were running for Congress at the start of the election cycle, a 16% gain over 2020. While not all are running in competitive districts and not all will win, the increase in candidates could have an impact on the overall numbers.
As the report put it, “more LGBTQ people are running for U.S. Congress in 2022 than in any other election cycle in U.S. history.”
The Impact on Government Affairs
With so many decisions facing America voters, the impact on government affairs teams may be broad. While the effect will be different at every organization, here are some likely outcomes for most teams.
- More Polarization Ahead. The U.S. is headed toward another highly partisan election. Roughly two thirds of government affairs professionals say polarization makes advocacy harder, according to the Capitol Canary State of Government Affairs Survey.
- Changes in Issues. The outlook for many issues could change, especially if Republicans take the House. There may be new allies or opponents. Teams will be scrambling to assess the calculus that applies to their top legislative priorities, both in Washington and the states.
- Impact on 2024. The midterm election will have enormous influence on the next presidential contest. For organizations that favor working in presidential years, consider that the 2024 race has already begun and that the midterms are a huge part of it.
- New Faces. No matter what the outcome, there will be many new officials to meet: members of Congress, governors and state lawmakers. We will all be busy in January.