Yuval Levin ponders lessons to be learned from the latest election results.

Republicans somehow failed to translate voter unhappiness with the status quo into votes for change. The question is why. 

If an answer is going to get beyond candidate personalities, which matter but can’t be the whole story, it should particularly help explain the results in the House of Representatives. Only a third of the Senate is up for election in any midterm, and not necessarily the third most representative of the country at large. But the entire House is on the ballot, and its contours are decided by a vast national electorate, which this year exceeded 100 million voters. Broad trends across that immense population might tell some useful tales. …

… The overall picture is straightforward: Republicans won a raw popular majority of just more than 3 percentage points, and will likely have 222 seats in the House next year, while the Democrats have 213. This is essentially a mirror image of the Democrats’ narrow win in the 2020 House elections and their tiny majority in the current House. Since 1994, the party not holding the presidency has ended up with an average of 231 House seats in midterm elections, and the GOP’s 222 is the second-worst showing by such a party over these three decades (exceeded only by the Democrats in the 2002 elections, in the wake of September 11). 

The leading explanations for this result have so far emphasized three structural factors (money, turnout, and geographic voter concentration) and two substantive factors (abortion and Trumpism), some of which are more persuasive than others. It’s worth thinking through each of them briefly, but also considering one further factor rooted in the less than dramatic nature of results: the possibility that a status quo election reflects the persistence of dissatisfaction rather than the absence of it. Maybe voters didn’t choose change in this election because they weren’t actually offered change, but the very same options they faced and turned down last time.