The Crucial Role of Suburban Voters in the Midterms

Suburban voters were instrumental in preventing a 'red wave' on Election Day and on December 6 in the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election, enabling the Democrats to win a 51st Senate seat.

3 minute read

December 25, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Red "Vote Here" sign with white text and arrow pointing left on green lawn next to curb

ThreeRivers11 / Voting sign

“Historically, the president’s party is almost always trounced in the midterms,” wrote The New York Times’s chief political analyst, Nate Cohn, on November 11, three days after Election Day. “But for the first time in the era of modern polling, the party of a president with an approval rating below 50 percent seems to have fared well.”

Election Day Results in House Races

One reason for that good showing is that ‘Democrats hold their own in the suburbs,’ notes the fifth of 12 takeaways in an election post-mortem published by CNN a day earlier.

“[I]f the 2022 election was going to be a red wave, it was likely to come through suburban victories that have not materialized yet,” wrote Eric BradnerDan Merica and Gregory Krieg on November 10. They cited several House races in Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, and Virginia where suburban voters stemmed a Republican wave.

In a district made up of the Kansas City suburbs, CNN projected Democrat Sharice Davids would win reelection. In Ohio, CNN projected two suburban wins: Democrat Greg Landsman defeated Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in a district that included Cincinnati and some of the surrounding suburbs and Democratic state Rep. Emilia Sykes defeated Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert in a district that includes areas around Cleveland and all of Akron.

The two Ohio races are particularly noteworthy. Greg Landsman, who had just won a second term a year ago on the Cincinnati City Council, flipped Ohio's 1st Congressional District held by Steve Chabot since 2011. Emilia Sykes will replace Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio's 13th Congressional District. Ryan, first elected in 2002, resigned in order to run for an open U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Rob Portman and lost to Republican E.J. Vance.

In Illinois, CNN projected that Democratic incumbent Lauren Underwood would win reelection against Republican Scott Gryder in the Chicago suburbs. And in Virginia, CNN projected Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger would win reelection, largely because of the votes she picked up from the suburbs of Washington, DC.

Democrats by no means had a monopoly on suburban House victories. Republican Tom Kean Jr. defeated incumbent Tom Malinowski (D) in a suburban New Jersey district and Rich McCormick won in a district that included Atlanta’s northern suburbs, added CNN.

Georgia U.S. Senate Runoff

Just as suburban voters prevented a nationwide red wave on November 8, they proved just as decisive on December 6 according to to a Washington Post analysis of voter turnout in the Georgia runoff election for U.S. Senate, calling the outcome “a rebuke of the Republican candidate in Georgia’s suburbs.”

“Turnout was somewhat lower in Tuesday’s runoff than in the November general election, by about 400,000 voters, but Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) more than doubled his lead over Republican Herschel Walker,” wrote Adrian BlancoKevin Uhrmacher and Kati Perry on December 7.

Walker was seemingly unable to turn out the voters he needed to offset Warnock’s advantages in urban and suburban areas. While Warnock won suburban areas by 190,000 votes in November, he led them by 223,000 in the December runoff.

Red Tide Revealed in House Races

Ultimately the Republicans netted 9 seats to flip control of the House of Representatives, ironically resulting 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats, nearly the mirror image of today's Congress. While a nationwide red wave never materialized, Republicans won the popular House vote by over 3 million votes, wrote Zachary B. Wolf in a post-mortem on December 17.

“Simply put, Republicans picked up the votes they needed, just not where they needed them most. Clearly something or someone intervened, affecting the outcome of the election in the places that mattered,” Cook Political Report founder Charlie Cook wrote in November.

Additional reading on the role the suburbs played in the election: 

More on the Midterms on Planetizen:

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