The 2022 midterm election occurred in the middle of an undeniably bad year for Democrats. Inflation, a looming war, and an endless pandemic all caused President Biden’s popularity levels to tank. For many political analysts, this provided Republicans with an unprecedented opportunity to flip the political table.
And yet, the highly-announced “red wave” failed to materialize. Although the Democrats did lose control of the House, they did so by a very narrow seat margin. Meanwhile, the Senate remained firmly in its control.
Countless pieces from both sides of the arena have now emerged, attempting to explain the final results. While many have focused on internal divisions, big personalities, or a backlash effect, today we will focus on the political strategy side. After all, the cocktail of opportunities that 2022 presented may never occur again in the next 50 years – but campaign tactics will become immediately relevant, as the 2024 campaign is already heating up.
Here are four lessons the Republican Party can draw from 2022’s midterm election.
1. Mail-In and Early Votes Now Matter More
Ever since 2014, more and more voters are now choosing to cast their votes early, either via absentee ballots or through mail-in voting. This is one terrain where Democrats and progressive voters have always had the upper hand.
Predictably, mail-in voting played a fundamental role in the 2020 elections due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, despite some States scaling back their main-in voting programs for 2022, the number of early vote casters still increased. It is now safe to assume that this is a large, long-term trend – and therefore, it should be included in campaign design.
2. Staffing is an Investment, not an Expenditure
Canvassing, polling, and voter registration exercises all require manpower. Traditionally, political campaigns have relied on volunteer work to perform these tasks. But as electoral campaigns become more tech-intensive, untrained volunteer work may begin to fall short.
Social media experts, copywriters, and SEO conversion specialists are all highly-trained but necessary positions for an online campaign. However, Republican campaigns did not allocate enough funds to recruit these specialists. According to one report by Open Secrets, Democratic campaigns spent, on average 10.5% of their budget on staff salaries, while Republicans spent only 3.6%.
3. Field and Online Efforts Must Be Coordinated
Digital marketing campaigns can often access a wealth of voter data, which is then used to develop highly-targeted ads. Online metrics can also tell us which arguments and tones engage users the most, generate stronger reactions, and lead to better conversion figures.
Over the last campaign, some localized exercises linked the online and physical arenas, using social media ads to direct Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaigns or pre-register prospective voters.
By sharing information between both teams, campaign directors can increase the productivity and efficiency of their canvassers and field volunteers.
4. Information can Turn Voters into Seats
Finally, we should not lose sight of an uncomfortable aspect of 2022’s results: Republicans won the popular vote, but this is not the same as winning more Senate seats. In many Republican strongholds, conservative voter turnout was consistently high. But key mistakes and poor planning in Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania kept precious sears away from the GOP.
The 2022 midterm election also yielded several surprising, yet localized victories for the Republican Party. In Virginia, Glenn Youngkin overcame a significant registration disadvantage. A closer look at these success stories will show similar strategies as those employed by Democrats: highly coordinated campaigns across social media, efficient use of voter data, and well-rounded strategies to attract early voters.
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