Despite public opinion polling that shows President Biden’s deep unpopularity, Democrats have been performing well in special elections this year. In 21 out of 27 state legislative races, Democrats have outperformed Biden’s 2020 presidential election results. They have surpassed his showing by an average of seven percentage points, indicating strong voter enthusiasm for the party. These results, along with other victories such as an 11-point triumph for a liberal State Supreme Court candidate in Wisconsin and a 14-point defeat of an Ohio ballot referendum on abortion rights, suggest that the political environment for Democrats has remained favorable since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
The success of Democrats in special elections has been attributed to their effective use of prominent national issues, such as abortion rights, to fuel their campaigns. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) has emphasized the significance of these elections as a gauge of grassroots turnout and voter engagement. Past special elections, such as Scott Brown’s Senate upset in Massachusetts in 2010 and Conor Lamb’s victory in a Pennsylvania House seat in 2018, have foreshadowed wave elections for their respective parties in subsequent midterms.
While special elections may involve relatively few voters and have demographic characteristics that favor Democrats, they continue to be contested battlegrounds for both parties. Democrats see these victories as a testament to Biden’s political strength and the resonance of their message with voters nationwide. Republicans, on the other hand, have not responded to these results. The upcoming elections in Virginia will provide another opportunity for Democrats to showcase their strength in down-ballot races, particularly in defending abortion rights. The outcomes of these elections are likely to shape the narrative of each party’s strength heading into the 2024 elections, with Democrats hoping to secure a strong story of success.