One big story of the last decade in American politics has been the realignment of well-off, well-educated suburban voters into the Democratic Party. Disgusted by Donald Trump, residents of subdivisions in and around Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit swung the wheel hard to the left in 2016, 2018, and 2020.
But with the 45th president keeping a relatively (relatively) low profile, would those gains persist? So far, the results are pretty good, with Democrats on track for the best showing in a midterm election for the president’s party in two decades. They performed well in lots of places they’ve been nervous about—especially in the big suburban counties of Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman outran Joe Biden and picked up a Senate seat; Ohio, where the party flipped a few House districts; and Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won easily and Dems look set to take full control of Lansing for the first time in four decades.
Where they had trouble? New York.
At first glance, it suggests a theory of suburban swing voters: The farther they are from real, live GOP rule, the more likely they are to vote their feelings about crime, inflation, gas prices, and stocks. Conversely, in places where abortion rights are under threat or election deniers are on the ballot, Democrats seem to have done better in competitive races. They’re the party in power—technically—but the biggest political act of the last two years came from a GOP-appointed Supreme Court.
In the former category, Exhibit A is the New York region, where one-party rule has left Democrats feeling comfortable—perhaps too comfortable. Out of the Washington Post’s seven “key House races” in the state, Democrats look likely to lose six of them. Long Island, Staten Island, and Westchester have all turned red on the congressional map. It could cost Dems control of the House of Representatives, and it is partly Andrew Cuomo’s fault for sticking them with an unfavorable court-mandated redistricting map. Gov. Kathy Hochul prevailed, but her margin fell by 18 points relative to Cuomo in 2018.
But the red wave in New York also owes something to the incessant focus on crime, which has dominated television, the tabloids, and the speeches of New York’s own Democratic Mayor Eric Adams. Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin campaigned for governor so relentlessly on the subject that New Yorkers seemed to forget he voted to overturn the 2020 election results. George Pataki this was not—but Zeldin lost by only 5 points.
Nor was this suburban retrenchment confined to New York borders. Rep. Tom Malinowski in the New Jersey suburbs looks likely to lose as his district swings 8 points to the GOP. In Connecticut, Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes is hanging on by 1,000 votes with 95 percent of her district reporting. She won by 12 points two years ago. Maryland’s 6th District, which has a similar profile, is still too close to call between incumbent Democrat David Trone and his GOP challenger—whom he beat by 20 points two years ago. (Trone is likely to win, but not by 20.)
The tri-state area was far from the only place Republicans ran on “crime.” They did the same in Wisconsin, where GOP gubernatorial challenger Tim Michels promised to get tough on “woke prosecutors.” There, though, it didn’t work. Incumbent Tony Evers outdid Joe Biden’s 2020 margins in much of the state. Senate challenger Mandela Barnes—pilloried for being “soft on crime”—lost by a hair to incumbent Ron Johnson, but performed about as well as Joe Biden in suburban Waukesha County—and Biden’s mark was the best Democratic performance there since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In other words, perhaps the GOP struggled to make “crime” the main issue in Wisconsin because their candidate for governor was simultaneously promising “Republicans will never lose another election after I’m elected governor.” (A Michels spokesperson later said the candidate just meant he would do a very good job.) It might just be easier to peel off Democratic voters in blue states, where the stakes of voting for a Republican don’t appear to be so high.
Democrats turned in strong performances in southern states with Republican governors, too, including in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C., where Rep. Abigail Spanberger looks likely to keep her job, and the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, where Wiley Nickel flipped a House seat. (This analysis , like so many things, does not apply to Florida—red and getting redder like a retiree on a chaise longue. Maybe that’s because unlike many red states, Florida does not have a blanket abortion ban.)
Finally, there’s the West, where so many races are half-counted it would be foolish to predict if the right turn in parts of the Northeast is an anomaly or a sign that suburban allegiance to Democrats may fizzle if the race isn’t about abortion, election denial, or Donald Trump.
One to watch is in sprawling, deep-blue Los Angeles. In a contest focused on what to do about homelessness and crime, U.S. Representative Karen Bass (a longtime Democrat) and real estate developer Rick Caruso (a Democrat of recent vintage) are deadlocked. More than half a million votes are left to count, but it’s definitely not the landslide establishment Democrats hoped for in the nation’s second-largest city, where registered Dems outnumber Republicans four to one. California congressional races also look less sunny than their counterparts in the Midwest, but again, the state is very, very slow to count votes.
They say a midterm election always pushes back on the party in power. That’s the Democrats, by any definition, though between the Supreme Court, Donald Trump, and Republican supermajorities in the statehouses, it may not always feel that way to voters outside of a few blue states.