Despite public opinion polls indicating widespread dissatisfaction with President Biden and the state of the economy, Democrats have achieved remarkable success in recent special elections. According to a study by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), Democrats outperformed Biden’s 2020 presidential election results in 21 out of 27 state legislative races this year, with an average increase of seven percentage points. These victories, along with other notable wins, such as a liberal State Supreme Court candidate in Wisconsin and the defeat of an Ohio ballot referendum, suggest that the political environment remains favorable for Democrats since the Roe v. Wade ruling. Democratic leaders attribute this success to the party’s effective use of abortion rights as a powerful motivator for their voters and a persuasive issue for moderate Republicans.
The results of these special elections have important implications for the upcoming 2024 elections. Historically, special elections have served as indicators of the wave elections that followed in subsequent midterms. Despite their relatively low voter turnout, skewing towards older and more educated demographics that are more likely to favor Democrats, special election victories are seen as a reflection of grassroots engagement and voter enthusiasm. Democrats are using these victories to strengthen their message and show that their agenda resonates with voters from all corners of the country. Their recent wins in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, in particular, were viewed as proof of President Biden’s political strength and the effectiveness of the Democratic message.
Looking ahead, the next test for Democrats will come in Virginia, where a slate of Democratic state legislative candidates is emphasizing the importance of maintaining abortion rights while warning against a rollback under a Republican-controlled legislature and Governor Glenn Youngkin. Republicans, on the other hand, are pitching tax cuts and parental influence over schools, similar to the campaign that helped Youngkin win the gubernatorial race two years ago. The outcome of these elections in Virginia, as well as the broader trend in special elections, will provide a crucial assessment of the parties’ strength heading into the 2024 elections. With competitive maps and the potential for a strong story for Democrats, the results could shape the narrative of the political landscape going forward.