Analysis: Mitch McConnell is right. Senate Republicans have a candidate problem.


We have grown accustomed to the boastful displays of politicians (see former President Donald Trump). That’s why it’s remarkable for a politician to admit that the political winds may not be going his way.

Such was the case when GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Republicans had a better chance of taking over the House than the Senate. « The quality of candidates has a lot to do with [it],” he noted.

McConnell’s comments are where we begin our news roundup of the week that was.

The Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate weren’t so good at the start of 2022. They weren’t as badly off as they were in the House (as they always are), but they were clear underdogs.

Today, an average of different predictions and political betting odds indicate that the Democrats are slightly favored to retain the upper house of Congress. The change in Senate fortunes comes as the party continues to vote much better than expected in a number of states while several Republican candidates struggle to connect with voters.

In other words, McConnell seems to be absolutely right.

The recent polls in Arizona and Wisconsin are a good example. President Joe Biden won both states in 2020 by less than a point, four years after voters backed Trump there. Republicans should be in a strong position in those states, if 2022 featured the normal midterm backlash against the president’s party.

Instead, the Democratic candidates (Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin) led in all polls. In Arizona, Kelly gained 8 points over Republican Blake Masters in a Fox poll. In Wisconsin, Barnes was ahead by 7 points in a Marquette University Law School poll and 4 points in a Fox poll over Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

The results were particularly notable because in all of those polls, Biden was underwater in his net preference rating (favorable minus unfavorable).

The reason Democrats were in the lead in both states was largely because Republican candidates were also underwater. Masters’ net preference rating was -4 points, while Johnson’s was -6 and -9 points in the Fox and Marquette polls respectively.

Democratic candidates in both states, on the other hand, had positive net preference ratings.

These are not the only purple states where we see the phenomenon of Democratic candidates being relatively popular, while Biden and Republican Senate candidates are unpopular. The same is true in Georgia and Pennsylvania, which Biden won by about a point or less in 2020 and Trump won in 2016.

Democrats (Senator Raphael Warnock and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman) led Republican candidates (Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz) by 4 points and 11 points in late July Fox polls from Georgia and Pennsylvania respectively.

The cause, again, was unpopular Republican candidates. Walker’s net preference rating was -5 points, while Oz’s was -20 points. Democratic candidates in both states had positive net favorability ratings, which made up for the fact that Biden was underwater in his net favorability rating in both states.

Keep in mind that these four states (Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) make up the majority of truly competitive races on this year’s Senate map. If the Democrats won all four, the Republicans would need an upheaval in a state they currently don’t have to win to regain the Senate.

On the contrary, it seems that the Republicans are the ones fighting the challengers in unexpected territory. A McConnell-linked super PAC only had to book $28 million in advertising in Ohio, a state Trump won by 8 points in 2020. Polls there have been surprisingly close.

Now, it’s possible that the Democrats’ current polling advantage will eventually fade. Biden could ultimately be a drag on Democratic Senate candidates, and their advantage could vanish on Election Day. The domestic environment has historically deteriorated for the White House party heading into November.

Additionally, Republicans have outperformed Senate polls in recent years. In 2014, 2016 and 2020, Republican Senate candidates outperformed their final polls by 3 to 5 points on average. (Neither party, on average, did better than their last polls in 2018.) In other words, it’s plausible that even if the Democrats continue to lead in the polls through the day of ballot, Republicans could still take over the Senate.

But if Republican candidates continue to be unpopular, it should come as no surprise to see their Democratic opponents maintaining their lead, even with Biden’s unpopularity. Republicans missed their chance to take control of the Senate in Barack Obama’s first midterm because of the poor quality of candidates, even though the president was unpopular.

And a look at 2020 data from US National Election Studies reveals that the few voters who disliked the President (Trump) and the opposition party’s Senate candidate (the Democrat) but almost liked the Senate of the president’s party (the Republican) always voted for the candidate they liked.

Democrats would more than welcome this scheme in 2022.

One group of Americans who will not vote midterm this year are teenagers under 18. However, they represent the pool of potential future voters and reaching them will be important for both political parties.

If Democrats and Republicans want to get their message across to today’s youth, Facebook doesn’t seem like the way to go. That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Pew Research Center that I briefly discussed in my last column.

In a rather surprising development for this millennial, Facebook’s popularity among teens has plummeted. According to the Pew poll, only 32% of 13-17 year olds use Facebook. That’s down from 71% in a 2014-2015 poll.

A big problem for Facebook is that it doesn’t seem to be addictive enough. Only 10% of teenagers say they consult Facebook several times a day.

Compare that to the most popular social media sites: Snapchat, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Tiktok, and YouTube. Multiple site or app visits per day ranged from 37% for Instagram to 60% for YouTube.

All of these sites and apps are known to let you quickly scan lots of photos and videos. Although Facebook has many of these characteristics, there can also be a lot of writing.

Not surprisingly, the most addictive sites are also the most popular social media sites and apps. Almost all teens nationwide (95%) say they use YouTube at least a little. TikTok comes in second with 67%. Snapchat and Instagram come third and fourth. Since 2014-2015, Snapchat (41% to 59%) and Instagram (52% to 62%) have seen growth among teens.

The good news for Facebook is that it’s still used by about 70% of American adults. But some trends are worrying. Google search traffic for Facebook in the United States is half what it was four years ago and about a fifth of what it was about ten years ago.

The bottom line is that the once cool kid on the block may have grown old and uncool like many of us.

Speaking of older Americans, Sunday marks a day to celebrate the young at heart among us. And for those under 65, know that you too will hopefully grow old too.

Indeed, older people make up a larger portion of the US population than ever before. They made up 17% of the population last year, up from less than 10% in 1960.

And we’re just going to grow old as a society. Seniors are expected to make up 23% of the population by 2060, according to the US Census Bureau. They are expected to outnumber children by 2034.

Covid-19 vaccines and the youngest: A new Gallup report reveals that a majority of American parents say they do not plan to have their children under 5 vaccinated against Covid-19. Only 14% have already done so, while 29% say they plan to do so. Polls show that about 80% of all American adults are vaccinated.

Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic: A new Pew poll shows that 26% of Americans say staying healthy has become more important since the start of the pandemic. Americans are much more divided on whether socializing outside the home has become more important (21%) or less important (35%).

It’s still Alabama in college football: In heartwarming news for CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Alabama ranks No. 1 in the AP’s top 25 and AFCA coaches poll. The college football season begins next Saturday.

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