A veteran pollster for Republican candidates and officials over the past several decades has a warning for his party: Pushing former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” about election fraud may cause a GOP midterm election loss.
Midterm elections usually go badly for the political party associated with the president currently in office. Only two presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have seen gains in Congress for their own political party in a midterm race after winning a presidential election: Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002.
On average, presidents can expect their party to lose 25 congressional seats in the first midterm after their inauguration. If this holds true in 2022, Democrats could lose control of the House, and perhaps the Senate as well. But there’s a wild card in all of this, it’s Trump and his influence on conservative voters next year.
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Frank Luntz, a pollster famous for teaching Republicans how to use language in the 1990s to win elections in arguably Orwellian ways, commented on the possible outcome of GOP lawmakers and candidates pushing Trump-fueled election fraud myths into the 2022 midterm races. Doing so, he said in an interview with The New York Times‘s “Sway” podcast, could cause supporters to view the voting process with distrust, resulting in losses across the board for the party.
“This could cost the Republicans the majority in the House in 2022. What Donald Trump is saying is actually telling people it’s not worth it to vote,” Luntz said. “Donald Trump single-handedly may cause people not to vote. And he may be the greatest tool in the Democrats’ arsenal to keep control of the House and Senate in 2022.”
Luntz added that GOP losses in the midterm races could also cause a Republican backlash against Trump.
“If the Republicans lose the majority in the House, they will lay the blame at the feet of Donald Trump for telling people it’s not worth it to vote,” the pollster said.
Luntz’s fears for the GOP echo similar concerns that were raised earlier this year by Republicans, who warned that Trump’s insistence on spreading baseless claims about fraud in the presidential election played a significant part in reducing voter turnout in the runoffs for Georgia’s Senate seats, particularly damaging Republican incumbent candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. More than 752,000 voters that participated in the first round of their races in November failed to show up in the January runoffs, according to reporting from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which noted that most of those voters were white and from rural areas, constituencies that typically favor the GOP.
Trump’s insistent and baseless voter fraud claims are not the only factor threatening the GOP’s chances in the midterm elections: A recent NBC News survey finds that a plurality of voters, 47 percent, currently want Democrats to retain control of Congress, while 42 percent say they want Republicans to run things halfway through Biden’s first term.
For comparison, at the same time in Trump’s first term (in April 2017), that same NBC News survey showed similar numbers, with 47 percent saying they wanted Democrats to run Congress (which was then controlled by Republicans) and 43 percent saying they wanted the GOP to do so.
The midterms are a long way away, so it’s still anyone’s guess what will happen a year and a half from now. But beyond Trump’s influence in the race (and his potential to depress turnout for Republican candidates across the country with his continued pushing of the “big lie”), experts are also saying outcomes will depend heavily on how successful the Democrats are in delivering what Biden promised to the American people during the 2020 campaign.
“The last four or five months of next year will be key, especially evaluating Biden’s performance, Democratic enthusiasm (which will help determine turnout), and the degree of lingering Republican disillusionment (which will determine their participation rate),” veteran analyst Charlie Cook wrote in February.