Now that the U.S. House finally has a speaker, the 118th Congress can get down to business. The prolonged battle over the speakership signals that it will be a turbulent two years. So here’s a brief review of the 2022 midterm vote and a quick sketch of what the new House and Senate look like.
The 2022 election saw all 435 House seats and thirty-five Senate seats up for grabs. The fact that only one-third of Senate seats is on the ballot in every federal election means that voters in some states voted for a senator and others didn’t. Californians actually got to vote twice for the Senate, once to fill the final weeks of the term that Kamala Harris resigned two years ago and then to fill that same seat for a full six-year term. Democrat Alex Padilla, whom California Governor Gavin Newsom appointed to the seat in 2021, won both races.
Some 112 million people voted in the 2022 elections. That equates to a turnout rate of 46.8 percent, which is substantially lower than the 66.6 percent voter turnout in 2020. That drop-off was expected. Voter turnout in midterm elections always lags turnout in a presidential year. But the 2022 turnout was also down from 2018, when it hit a modern record of 49.4 percent. It was, however, substantially higher than in 2014 when voter turnout hit a modern low of 36.4 percent. Maine and Oregon tied with the highest voter turnout, 61.5 percent. Tennessee had the lowest voter turnout at 31.3 percent.
As in past elections, older voters were more likely to cast a ballot than younger voters. Voter turnout for people aged forty-five and older typically exceeds 50 percent in midterm elections. In comparison, early numbers indicate that 27 percent of voters between eighteen and twenty-nine went to the polls in 2022. That’s down from just over 28 percent in 2018, but substantially higher than the roughly 20 percent turnout that midterm elections going back to 1994 averaged.
In terms of how people voted, 47,019,738 votes were cast either by mail (55 percent) or by early in-person voting (45 percent). That equates to 41.9 percent of all votes cast. Forty-five percent of early votes were cast by registered Democrats, 35 percent were cast by registered Republicans, and 20 percent were cast by independents, undeclared voters, or members of other parties. Women (53 percent) were more likely than men (45 percent) to vote early. Georgia set records for early voting—roughly 90 percent of Georgians voted during the state’s early voting period.
Republican candidates for the U.S. House picked up 54.5 million votes, or 50.6 percent of the total. Democratic House candidates picked up 51.5 million votes or 47.8 percent. The remainder of the vote went to third-party candidates.
Those votes translated into the Republicans winning 222 House seats and the Democrats winning 213. That represented a net gain of ten seats for Republicans. One of the winning Democratic candidates, A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, died of colorectal cancer three weeks after Election Day. His seat will be filled by a special election scheduled for February 21, 2023. As a result, the 118th House opened with 212 Democratic members.
On one level, the 2022 election was a relatively good one for House incumbents. Just eight of them lost in November—six Democrats and two Republicans. (If five of those Democrats had held onto their seat, then the Democrats would have kept control of the House.) However, fourteen House incumbents lost in the primaries. When retirements and departures to run for other offices are added in, the 118th House has seventy-five first-term legislators. That number will rise to seventy-six regardless of who wins next month’s special election in Virginia.
The November vote did not produce the “red wave” that House Republicans were expecting. The results certainly fell short of what history would have predicted. Going back to Harry Truman’s presidency, the president's party has lost, on average, twenty-nine House seats in each president’s first midterm election. Those losses were even higher when the president’s public approval rating was below 50 percent, as was the case with Joe Biden. In those instances, the party out of power picked up forty-three seats on average.
Why didn’t Republicans see a red wave when they outpolled Democrats by three percentage points? One factor is that a number of Republicans ran in uncontested races. But that doesn’t provide a complete explanation. If races that weren’t contested by both parties are thrown out, Republicans still outpolled Democrats by two percentage points. A second reason Republicans underperformed is that Democrats lost their most vulnerable House seats back in the 2020 election when they underperformed. Parties typically pick up seats when their nominee wins the presidency. Democrats in 2020, however, lost thirteen seats. The seats they were defending in 2022 were always going to be harder for Republicans to pick off. Finally, Republicans ran up the vote in districts they were destined to win, while they improved their vote totals in other districts but generally not enough to win. The median Republican candidate in the House races for the 191 seats that Republicans held, and that Donald Trump won in 2020, outdid Trump’s 2020 performance by 7.4 percentage points. In contrast, Republican candidates outperformed Trump by only 2.7 percentage points in all other districts. So, the 2022 election reflected a cardinal rule of American politics: it’s not just how many votes you win, but where you get them. Just ask Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats picked up one seat in the Senate, breaking what had been a fifty-fifty tie. (Technically, the Senate has forty-eight Democrats, forty-nine Republicans, and three Independents. However, all three Independents caucus with the Democrats, giving them the majority.) The fact that Democrats gained a Senate seat isn’t unusual. Unlike the House, the president’s party occasionally adds seats in a president’s first midterm election. It has happened five times since Truman sat in the Oval Office, most recently in 2018. The Democrats’ success owed in part to the fact that they were defending fewer seats—fourteen versus twenty-one—than the Republicans were. But it also owed to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to as “candidate quality.” Five of the eight Republican Senate candidates in competitive races did worse in their respective states than Trump did in 2020.
The Senate began its 118th session with seven new members. Two are Democrats, and five are Republicans. The Senate will add another new member shortly. Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska resigned his seat yesterday to become president of the University of Florida. Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen will select Sasse’s successor, who will serve for two years before a special election is held in 2024 to fill the seat.
The outcomes of Senate elections matched the results of the 2020 presidential election in almost every instance. The one exception was Wisconsin, where Republican Senator Ron Johnson won reelection in a state that Joe Biden won. Overall, 2022 was a great year for incumbent senators seeking reelection. Every single one of them won. The Democrats gained their one seat when John Fetterman defeated Dr. Mehmet Oz in the race for the open seat created by Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s decision to retire.
The 118th Senate set a record for the lowest number of split-party delegations since the direct election of senators became mandatory back in 1914. Just five states—Maine, Montana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—have one senator who is Democrat, or an Independent aligned with the Democrats, and another who is Republican. The previous record was six, which was set by the 117th Senate. The sorting of states into red and blue camps continues.
The 118th Congress by Age
The 118th Congress has eighty-six members who were elected to their first term: seven senators and seventy-nine representatives. These new members have far to go to match the terms of the longest serving members in their respective chambers. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was first elected to the Senate in 1980. In November, he was elected to his eighth Senate term. Republicans Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Chris Smith of New Jersey were both first elected to the House in 1980. They are now serving their twenty-first terms in the House.
The 118th Congress is one of the oldest Congresses on record. The average age in the Senate is 63.9 years. That makes it the second-oldest Senate on record, after the 117th Congress. The oldest senator is Dianne Feinstein of California, who will turn ninety in June. The youngest senator is Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who will turn thirty-six next month. The oldest representative is Grace Napolitano, Democrat of California, who turned eighty-six last month. The youngest representative is twenty-five-year-old Maxwell Frost, Democrat of Florida, the first Gen Z member of Congress.
The 118th Congress by Race and Ethnicity
The 118th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history. It has 133 members who identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native, or multiracial. To put that number in perspective, the 108th Congress, which was sworn in twenty years ago, had sixty-seven members who were people of color.
The Senate gained its first Native American member in eighteen years when Oklahomans elected Republican Markwayne Mullin, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, to be their senator. The last Native American to serve in the Senate was Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican from Colorado, who departed the chamber in 2005. The racial and ethnic makeup of the Senate remained unchanged otherwise, with three Black senators (two Democrats and one Republican), six Hispanic senators (four Democrats and two Republicans) and two Asian-American senators (both Democrats).
The House has 121 representatives who are people of color. Fifty-seven representatives are African American. Forty-eight are Hispanic. Sixteen are Asian American or Pacific Islander. Four are Native American or Alaskan Native. (Those numbers total 121 because four representatives are members of more than one racial or ethnic group). Twenty-seven of the seventy-five first-term members of the House—19 Democrats and eight Republicans—are Black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian, or Alaska Native.
Hakeem Jeffries of New York made history as the first African American to be named a party leader when House Democrats selected him as minority leader. The House Democratic Caucus’s third-ranking position, caucus chairman, is held by Pete Aguilar of California, who is Hispanic. The Democratic Caucus’s fourth-ranking position, vice-caucus chairman, is held by Ted Liu, who was born in Taiwan.
Women in the 118th Congress
Women hold 149 seats in the 118th Congress, or 27.9 percent of the total. That tops the previous record of 147 seats, which was set by the 117th Congress. The number will rise to 150 if, as expected, Democrat Jennifer McClellan wins Virginia’s February 21 special election. (If she does, the relevant numbers above and below should all be adjusted by one.) The Democrats have more than twice as many women lawmakers (106) as the Republicans (42) do, with one woman being an Independent.
Women hold twenty-five seats in the Senate. Fifteen of them are Democrats and nine are Republicans. Senator Kyrsten Sinema was elected as a Democrat back in 2018. She announced last month, however, that she had become an Independent. She will still caucus with the Democrats. The one woman new to the Senate is Katie Britt, a Republican from Alabama.
Women hold 124 seats in the House, or 28.5 percent of all seats. The previous record was 123, which was set in the 117th Congress. The Democratic caucus has ninety-one women, and the Republican caucus has thirty-three women. Of the House’s 124 women lawmakers, twenty-two are new to the chamber, with fifteen being Democrats and seven Republicans. The 2018 congressional midterm election set the record with thirty-six first-term women legislators. Democrat Becca Balint won Vermont’s sole House seat. As a result, every state has now sent at least one woman to the House.
The 118th Congress features a record number of women of color—fifty-eight. The Senate has two Asian American women, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and one Hispanic, Catherine Cortez Mastro of Nevada. The Senate has no Black women. No Native American woman, Alaska Native woman, or Native Hawaiian woman has ever served in the Senate.
Twenty-seven African American women serve in the House, which is a record. The previous record was set by the 117th House, which had twenty-six Black women. All twenty-seven Black women in the House are Democrats.
Eighteen Hispanic women serve in the House, which is a record. The previous record was set by the 117th House, which had fifteen Hispanic women. Thirteen of the Hispanic women in the House are Democrats, and five are Republicans.
Eight Asian American and Pacific Islander women serve in the House. Eight are Democrats. Two are Republicans.
The House has one woman who is Native American (Sharice Davids of Kansas), one who is Native Alaskan (Mary Peltola of Alaska), and one who is Middle Eastern (Rashida Tlaib of Michigan). All three women are Democrats.
With Nancy Pelosi’s term as speaker of the House having ended, no woman is party leader in either the House or Senate. The highest ranking woman in congressional leadership is Katherine Clark of Massachusetts. She is the House Democratic whip, the number two position in the House Democratic Caucus.
Democrat Patty Murray of Washington State is the Senate President Pro Tempore. That makes her third in the line of presidential succession. She is the first woman to hold the position. The constitutionally mandated position typically goes to the most senior senator in the majority party. That distinction in the 118th Congress goes to Dianne Feinstein of California, who began her service in the Senate in 1992, two months before Murray did. However, Feinstein declined to seek the post.
Veterans in the 118th Congress
The 118th Congress has ninety-seven members who served in the military. Ninety of those veterans are men. Seven are women.
Seventeen senators are veterans. Ten Republican senators are veterans. Seven Democratic senators are veterans.
The House has eighty members who served in the military. That is up from the 75 veterans who served in the 117th House. Both numbers, however, are lows for the post-World War II era. In the 1970s, the House regularly had more than three hundred veterans. Sixty-two of the veterans in the House are Republicans and eighteen are Democrats.
The 2024 election will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2024. That’s 666 days away. The presidency, all 435 House seats, and thirty-four Senate seats will be up for grabs. So far there is only one announced presidential candidate, Donald Trump. A lot more presidential aspirants will throw their hats into the ring.
As for the Senate, twenty Democratic senators and the three independents who caucus with them will be up for re-election. In comparison, just ten Republican seats are on the ballot, and they are all in red states. The Democrats’ effort to keep their slim Senate majority just got harder as Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has already announced that she will not run for re-election.
Other posts in this series:
Sinet Adous and Michelle Kurilla assisted in the preparation of this post.