Baseline Update: Which States Shifted the Most After 2022

by Bradley Wascher December 2, 2022 · 2:29 PM EST

With the 2022 midterm elections (almost) in the books, we can begin putting the results into the broader context of past results to see how much states and districts shifted. One of the best ways to identify shifts in partisanship is through our Baseline metric. 

Baseline captures a state or congressional district’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four election cycles into a single score. It seeks to approximate what the “typical” Democrat or Republican might receive in any given state, showing major trends that have emerged over the past few election cycles.

Compared to the post-2020 Baseline (using results from 2014 to 2020), states’ post-2022 Baseline margins (using results from 2016 to 2022) moved toward either party by 2.1 points on average. Nineteen states’ Baseline margins shifted by less than 1 point between 2020 and 2022. This swing largely falls in line with previous year-to-year differences in the statewide Baseline, but is most similar to the swings from 2014 to 2016 and from 2018 to 2020.  

Two states, Nevada and Wisconsin, saw Democrats surpass Republicans in the post-2022 Baseline margin — “flipping” those states in Democrats’ favor for the first time in our calculations, which reach back to the 2014 cycle.

In Nevada, the typical Democrat is now expected to earn 48.6 percent, while the typical Republican is expected to earn 46.8 percent. In Wisconsin, the Democratic Baseline is 49.6 percent and the Republican Baseline is 48.6 percent. Notably, both states split their votes at the top of the ticket in 2022, with Nevada electing a Republican governor and re-electing a Democratic senator while Wisconsin re-elected its Democratic governor and Republican senator. These razor-thin Baseline margins also fit in line with the results of the 2020 presidential election, suggesting that both states could go either way in future contests. 

Another way to look at the evolving slate of battleground states is to compare post-2022 Baseline numbers to those from the previous midterm cycle, 2018. 

Starting in Florida, a typical Republican would be expected to perform 8.8 points better than a typical Democrat, according to the post-2022 Baseline. This is a much more favorable margin for Republicans than after 2018, when the GOP’s expected advantage in Florida was only 4.5 points.

But zooming out, the 2022 numbers aren’t all too different from Florida’s Baseline margins after 2016 (R+8.9) and 2014 (R+8.6). In essence, Democratic overperformance (but nonetheless losses) in 2018 temporarily moved Florida’s Baseline a few points in the party’s favor, but strong GOP showings in 2022, particularly from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, pulled the average closer to where it had been before.

Most political observers would say that Florida isn’t completely out of reach for Democrats, but Baseline suggests that a Democrat winning in the Sunshine State is about as likely as a Republican winning in Colorado. 

Two states where Democrats’ fortunes certainly are dimmer, though, are Missouri and North Dakota. Apart from West Virginia (previously highlighted in the 2020 Baseline update), these two states saw the biggest movement in Baseline between 2018 and 2022. Missouri shifted nearly 9 points toward Republicans, with a post-2022 statewide Baseline margin of R+15.7. North Dakota’s post-2022 margin, R+36.7, is almost 8 points more favorable for the GOP compared to 2018. 

Georgia, by contrast, has moved toward Democrats in recent elections. Its Baseline margin was R+8.5 after 2018, R+7 after 2020, and R+4.5 after 2022. But this movement wasn’t seen across the board: across Georgia’s eight statewide races that consistently featured one Democrat against one Republican (Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Labor, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and State School Superintendent), Republicans won by an average of 7 points in 2022, 4 points in 2018, and 13 points in 2014. 

In this case, Democratic victories in recent presidential and Senate contests, paired with strong performances from many of the party’s candidates in down-ballot races in 2018, have made the state’s Baseline peachier for Democrats over time. It also puts Georgia’s post-2022 Baseline (+4.5 points for Republicans) close to Michigan (Democrats +5 points) and Pennsylvania (Democrats +4.1 points) in the swing state category.

Arizona is another state where Democrats’ fortunes have improved in recent years. As Inside Elections’s Jacob Rubashkin has noted, the last time Arizona had a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators was 1950. But Democrats are doing better in Arizona beyond the top of the ticket, as evidenced by the party’s all-but-official victories in the 2022 statewide elections for attorney general and secretary of state. The one exception seems to be the state treasurer’s race, where Republican Kimberly Yee dispatched her Democratic opponents by 9 points in 2018 and 11 points in 2022. Still, Arizona’s Baseline margin after 2022 was R+1.8, compared to R+3.5 after 2020 and R+4.9 after 2018 — confirming that it’s a key battleground.

Arkansas saw the most movement of any state between 2020 and 2022. In the post-2022 Baseline calculations, Republicans now run ahead of Democrats by an average of 30.6 points. (A typical Republican would be expected to earn 64.1 percent, compared to 33.5 percent for a typical Democrat.) Post-2020, the margin was R+23 (59.5 percent for Republicans and 36.5 percent for Democrats). This 7-point shift is the latest in Arkansas’s record as a land of increasing opportunity for the GOP, following the state’s Baseline margins of R+14.8 after 2014, R+15.8 after 2016, and R+22.7 after 2018. 

Likewise, a similar pattern appears in Democratic-favored places such as Massachusetts and Maryland; red states are getting redder, and blue states are getting bluer.

Another interesting finding is that Louisiana moved 4 points toward Republicans between 2020 and 2022, despite not holding any statewide elections this year apart from the Senate race. This might be because of the math behind Baseline: the post-2020 Baseline calculation includes Republican Bill Cassidy’s 11-point win over Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014, which was a GOP underperformance relative to the statewide benchmark, but that cycle is now excluded from the post-2022 calculation.

Together, these post-2022 Baseline updates reflect broader national trends. While the post-2018 Baseline margins were 93 percent correlated with the state-by-state results of the 2016 presidential election, the correlation between the post-2022 Baseline margins and the 2020 presidential result was 97 percent. That potentially points to more predictive power for the partisan performance metric going forward — and illustrates an enduring increase in political polarization.