Straight-ticket voting has been steadily increasing in recent years. It’s particularly strong in presidential election cycles: In 2016, not a single Senate candidate won a state carried by the other party’s presidential candidate; in 2020, only Maine’s Susan Collins pulled off that once-very-common trick.
But midterm elections are a bit different, as Senate and gubernatorial candidates often have significantly different levels of popularity. Governors, after all, have their own legislatures, their own budgets and governing agendas, and can command news coverage pretty much at will. They are harnessed far less tightly to national parties and their variable appeal.
But it can all be a bit relative. After the last midterm elections, FiveThirtyEight reported that ticket-splitting between Senate and gubernatorial candidates had reached a new low. Yet there was still a median gap of ten points between the winning or losing margins of Senate and gubernatorial candidates in the same party.
Republican gubernatorial candidates in three northeastern states accounted for the most striking ticket-splitting phenomena in 2018; Charlie Baker of Massachusetts ran more than 30 points ahead of his Senate ticket-mate, Geoff Diehl; Vermont’s Phil Scott ran 27 points ahead of his party’s senatorial candidate, Lawrence Zupan; and Maryland’s Larry Hogan ran 25 points ahead of GOP senatorial candidate Tony Campbell. Baker and Hogan are term-limited this year, so we won’t see anything like 2018’s level of ticket-splitting in Massachusetts and Maryland. But there’s been a lot of buzz about the variable strength of Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates this year.
The cases you hear about most often involve popular governors yoked to relatively weak Senate prospects. New Hampshire Republican governor Chris Sununu has a 59-38 job-approval ratio, per Morning Consult. He’s popular enough that Republicans desperately wanted him to run against Democratic senator Maggie Hassan. But while he’s cruising to an easy reelection against Democrat Tom Sherman, ticket-mate Don Bolduc has struggled with fundraising and a history of wacky comments and is in an uphill battle against Hassan.
Ohio Republican governor Mike DeWine, who has managed to stay independent of Donald Trump without succumbing to a MAGA purge, has a 54-40 job-approval ratio, per Morning Consult. He leads Democrat Nan Whaley by 18 points in the RealClearPolitics polling averages in his pretty solidly red state, even as GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance is in a tight battle with Tim Ryan.
Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, has a job-approval ratio of 53-40, in part because he has been able to rain surplus revenues on his citizens all year. He’s ahead of strong Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams by seven points in the RCP averages. His ticket-mate, GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker, has been the victim of a number of self-inflicted wounds involving dishonesty, hypocrisy and incoherence, and is in a very close battle with Democrat Raphael Warnock.
And in a state where the shoe is on the other foot, Kansas Democratic governor Laura Kelly has a 55-39 job-approval ratio in her quite red state. She’s been boosted by the solid defeat of an anti-abortion ballot initiative in August that most Kansas Republican pols (but not all Kansas Republican voters) supported. She’s a slight favorite to beat Republican attorney general Derek Schmidt, even as Republican U.S. Senator Jerry Moran is expected to comfortably defeat Democrat Mark Holland.
There is one conspicuous case of a state with no incumbents where a terrible Republican gubernatorial candidate can’t keep up with a so-so Senate candidate. Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano has a kooky reputation and virtually no money, and is facing Josh Shapiro, a Democrat with significant cross-party appeal. Shapiro is up by eight points in the RCP averages, and that may understate his current lead. Meanwhile GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz is in a tight battle with Democrat John Fetterman.
Given the overall political climate, it’s likely that the gap between all these odd-couple ticket-mates will shrink somewhat by the time the votes all come in (Bolduc, for example, may be gaining strength). But for most part, the ticket-splitting we’re likely to see is mostly a product of the independent profile governors often achieve, plus a couple of candidates like Mastriano that no one really wants to see in a governor’s mansion. Fans of ticket-splitting shouldn’t get too excited.
More on the 2022 midterms
- Are Democrats the Party of Low-Turnout Elections Now?
- New Midterms Data Reveals Good News for Democrats in 2024
- The Return of the Emerging Democratic Majority?