Author’s Note: Results current as of this writing.
Last January, Split Ticket published an analytical piece examining ticket-splitting in the 2020 House elections. The write-up primarily addressed “crossover seats,” or districts that supported different parties for President and Congress. Between 2008 and 2020, the number of those seats declined from 83 to just 16 — a sign of accelerating polarization during the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Intuitively, a district or state’s congressional result should share the strongest correlation with its presidential result during presidential cycles, when top-of-ticket forces tend to be most pronounced. Trump’s 2020 performance, for example, explained 97% of the variation in House Republican share at the district level according to past Split Ticket research.
But what about midterms? Do district presidential leans retain the same predictive power without any contenders for the White House on the ballot? Furthermore, how do midterm elasticity* and heightened candidate quality effects come into play?
Split Ticket answered these questions by analyzing the salience of presidential partisanship in midterm years and found an eerily-predictable pattern: a district’s federal lean is increasingly the best predictor of its House results regardless of the election cycle. In other words, available evidence suggests that polarization isn’t going anywhere for the time being.
That’s how we arrive at 2022’s results, which saw Republicans secure a narrow House majority despite a better-than-expected night for Democrats overall. This follow-up is a combined update to both aforementioned articles and aims to offer a summary of the critical crossover contests, a breakdown of the highest candidate overperformances relative to generic district lean, and a conclusion regarding the directionality of ongoing polarization.
*Elasticity refers to the degree to which a state or district’s result will deviate from its partisan lean. Thanks to a lack of national top-of-ticket forces, midterms have historically been more elastic than presidential cycles. Elasticity can take the form of crossover voting and reversion. Differential turnout, and reduced voter participation overall, contribute to elastic results.
With national returns almost finalized, there are 23 crossover seats. Five of those are Trump districts represented by Democrats, a category that some had written off for the White House’s party when a “red wave” looked likely earlier in the cycle. The remaining eighteen are Biden seats carried by Republicans.
Because the political environment was still more Republican than usual in many parts of the country, particularly Oregon and New York, it’s not surprising that the GOP will hold most of the crossover seats in the next Congress.
Keep in mind, though, that more than half of the Republicans’ crossover districts backed Biden by 5 points or more in 2020 and could therefore feasibly change hands in 2024. In a neutral or Democratic environment, for instance, the average TOSSUP seat would almost certainly be more Republican federally.
Even though there were only 16 crossover seats following the 2020 presidential vote, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there are more this year. As we’ve written on numerous occasions, there’s compelling electoral evidence suggesting that ticket splitting can play an outsized role in midterms. Look no further than Texas and New York for 2022.
The important takeaway here is that split-ticket voting and the number of crossover seats have still fallen compared to midterms of yore. Polarization might play a lesser role when a President isn’t on the ballot, but it nevertheless impacts results.
Before discussing the five Trump-district Democrats, it’s important to note that the group could have been larger had a few thousand votes gone in the other direction on November 8th. Candidates like Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03), Carl Marlinga (MI-10), and Adam Frisch (CO-03) all come to mind as close runners-up in Trump-won districts.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) had the most impressive win, defeating Republican JR Majewski by 13 points in a Trump +3 seat. The forty-year congressional veteran secured her Toledo-based district by appealing to traditionally-Democratic working class whites along the Ohio Lakefront and posting double-digit overperformances in the 9th’s heavily-Republican western counties. Given the size of her victory, there’s a chance that Kaptur would’ve won regardless of her opponent. She will become the longest serving woman in House history at the end of her upcoming term.
The most resilient members of the group are Rep. Jared Golden (ME-02) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-08). Unlike Kaptur, both have repeatedly won tough elections in Trump districts over the last few cycles — even with the former President at the top of the ticket.
Golden, a moderate who represents his rural district in northern Maine well, defeated former Rep. Bruce Poliquin comfortably in a ranked-choice instant runoff. Cartwright, buoyed by Josh Shapiro’s landslide gubernatorial win, won a rematch against Republican Jim Bognet. Both men’s records suggest that they have the grit needed to come out on top in future close races.
Two newcomers also entered the class this year: Rep. Mary Peltola (AK-AL) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03). Peltola famously won a special election to replace the late Rep. Don Young, a sign that her moderate “fish, family, freedom” messaging resonated with the electorate. Peltola’s parochial concerns helped her win a full term this month in an instant-runoff against Sarah Palin.
While the Last Frontier’s new ranked-choice system allowed Peltola to win in the first place, she very well could have won her most recent election without it. Winning by 10 points in Trump +10 Alaska, Peltola had the House’s most impressive overperformance and now represents the reddest seat of any Trump-district Democrat.
The other freshman, Gluesenkamp Perez, narrowly beat controversial Republican Joe Kent in Washington’s 3rd — a marginal Trump district based around Vancouver in the southwestern part of the state. Kent had finished ahead of incumbent Jamie Herrera Beutler, a moderate who supported Trump’s impeachment, in the jungle primary.
Gluesenkamp Perez overperformed expectations across the board, particularly in Biden +5 Clark County (Vancouver), which she carried by 11 points. Had the primary gone differently, Republicans would have almost certainly held this seat.
Many of the new Republican crossover seats were won in states where the GOP had a better night relative to the national environment. New York, where gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin’s strong performance may have pulled many swing district Republicans over the line, is an excellent example.
On Long Island George Santos (NY-03), Anthony D’Esposito (NY-04), and to a lesser extent Nick LaLota (NY-01), utilized Zeldin’s electoral appeal to win Biden seats. Upstate Republicans Mike Lawler (NY-17), Marc Molinaro (NY-19), and Brandon Williams (NY-22) won under similar conditions. Lawler’s win was particularly notable because he defeated DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney in what ended up being the election’s median seat.
Republicans had similar luck in California, where strong incumbents, Governor Gavin Newsom’s underperformance, and differential turnout worked in the GOP’s favor. Crossover voting played a significant role in traditionally-Republican Orange County, helping Reps. Young Kim (CA-40) and Michelle Steel (CA-45) win comfortable reelections in ostensibly Democratic seats.
Fellow Reps. David Valadao (CA-22) and Mike Garcia (CA-27), both WAR overperformers in 2020, also won despite an unfavorable redistricting cycle. Republican John Duarte (CA-13) additionally appears set to secure an open seat in the Central Valley thanks in part to low minority turnout.
Tom Kean Jr. (NJ-07), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05), and Jen Kiggans (VA-02), all above average candidates, took advantage of good regional environments to flip marginally-Democratic seats. Chavez-DeRemer’s victory in an open district based in Clackamas and Deschutes counties can be attributed to the GOP’s ability to outrun fundamentals in deep blue Oregon, not the Democratic nominee.
Kean, meanwhile, can thank a favorable redistricting cycle and significant improvements in Warren County. Under the old lines, embattled incumbent Tom Malinowski probably would’ve won, a sign of Kean’s waning ability to attract crossover support in Somerset and Union counties.
In VA-02, the House’s median seat by presidential partisanship, Kiggans comfortably beat sitting Democrat Elaine Luria. Governor Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 inroads in the Virginia Beach area appeared to have some staying power as Republicans had a good night overall in the Old Dominion, overperforming in all of the swing seats.
Two more Republicans, Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-01) and Juan Ciscomani (AZ-06), secured marginal Biden seats in Arizona in unexpectedly-tight races. Had national Democrats invested more in both districts, challengers Jevin Hodge and Kirsten Engel could have won outright.
There is a slight controversy occurring in AZ-06, where as of writing, heavily-Republican Cochise County is refusing to certify its results. If Democratic Secretary of State and Governor-elect Katie Hobbs’s lawsuit is unsuccessful, that would put Engel ahead in the congressional race. House Republicans would probably seat Ciscomani anyway, as the chamber technically holds final say over the electoral qualifications of its members.
The last two crossover Republicans, like Golden and Cartwright on the Democratic side, have a proven record of using split-ticket voting to overcome national headwinds. They are Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Don Bacon (NE-02). Both won clear Biden seats comfortably in 2020, though Bacon had to break a sweat against state senator Tony Vargas this cycle and is expected to be vulnerable in the future.
Top Generic Overperformances
On the Democratic side, three of the top ten overperformers relative to district presidential lean represent Trump-won seats: Reps. Mary Peltola (AK-AL), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), and Jared Golden (ME-02). Adam Frisch (CO-03), Rep. Lauren Boebert’s challenger, came close to entering this category. Two incumbents, Reps. Ed Case (HI-01) and Brendan Boyle (PA-02), also exceeded expectations in solidly-Democratic districts.
In suburban Michigan and Kansas, where Democratic Governors won reelection and statewide abortion referendums were held (though not on the same ballot), Reps. Sharice Davids (KS-03) and Dan Kildee (MI-08) both outran Biden. Davids’s win was particularly notable because her Johnson County-based seat got much redder in redistricting. The last two Democratic incumbents, Reps. Joe Courtney (CT-02) and Henry Cuellar (TX-28) are consistent WAR overperformers with personal brands so well-suited to their districts that they sometimes seem trend-resistant.
On the other side of the aisle, South Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz Balart (FL-26) and Carlos Gimenez (FL-28) benefitted from the state’s “regional red wave,” including victories by Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio in Miami-Dade County, to achieve landslide victories. Republicans Julia Letlow (LA-05) and Clay Higgins (LA-03) outpaced their districts’ presidential leans in part because Black turnout was down throughout Louisiana.
In OH-10 and NY-02, Republicans Mike Turner and Andrew Garbarino both have a record of outrunning the top of the ticket and likely did so again this cycle. Dan Newhouse (WA-04) enjoyed similar levels of crossover support thanks to his moderate campaign and support for Trump’s impeachment. On opposite ends of the country, Republican Rep. Mike Garcia (CA-27) and newcomer Anthony D’Esposito (NY-04) won in part thanks to candidate strength, Democratic underperformances at the top of the ticket, and insufficient national Democratic interest in their challengers.
The shift in Andy Barr’s KY-06, an anomaly in many respects, can be attributed primarily to Geoff Young, a pro-China Democrat who expressed opposition to Ukraine before being forsaken by the state party. Split Ticket will have more to say about overperformances, controlling for incumbency, when our 2022 WAR model comes out after the Georgia Senate runoff. Check out the 2020 version here.
Polarization – Status of Split Ticket Voting
Removing uncontested seats and those contested between two members of the same party, Split Ticket calculated an R-squared value of 96.6%* — the highest ever recorded in our research on crossover voting for a midterm year. Presidential lean, measured here by margin instead of vote share, hasn’t historically been as predictive of off-year House results. In 2006, for instance, our R-squared was roughly 71%, much less than 2022’s. Portending accelerating polarization and the gradual decline of split-ticket voting, that value has steadily increased each midterm since.
Our conclusion this cycle is multifaceted but mainly states that candidate quality still matters in competitive House races — especially those up for election in midterm years. Differing state-level environments and heightened focus on close districts, where candidate deltas matter more, may have overstated the effect of ticket-splitting this cycle like a mirage. In other words, the phenomenon is still an important, if dwindling, aspect of American electoral politics. With continuous polarization not set to abate in the near future, it’s crucial to remember that, like trends, changes happen in fits and starts before reaching their ultimate destinations.
*Our R-squared value explains the percentage of the variation of the 2022 House margin that can be explained by the 2020 Presidential margin in each district. Uncontested seats and those contested between two members of the same party have been excluded.
My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.
Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or email@example.com