Geographical Patterns in the 2022 Election, Part 1, The North-Central United States

The U.S. House of Representatives 2022 election was an almost exact inverse of the 2020 contest. In 2020, the Democrats won 50.8 percent of the popular vote nationwide and took 222 seats; in 2022, the Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote nationwide and will probably end up with 222 seats. Yet both parties can credibly claim to have triumphed in this election. The Republicans took control of the House, but they performed worse than expected. The party out of power at the presidential level usually loses more seats in a midterm election, and in this contest the Democrats faced serious headwinds, including an unpopular president, a high rate of inflation, and a pervasive feeling that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The electoral geography of the United States has been in transition for the past several decades, with nonmetropolitan regions trending in the Republican direction as metropolitan areas trend in the Democratic direction. The Pacific Coast and the southern half of the interior West have also shifted toward the Democrats, as has the Northeast, while the Midwest and the South have moved toward the Republicans. In the 2022 contest, some of these trends continued but others showed signs of reversal. The Republicans won two more non-metropolitan House seats in the Midwest, while the Democrats cemented their hold along the Pacific coast, winning every House district bordering the ocean, even that of red-state Alaska. But the Republicans picked up some unexpected seats in the metropolitan Mid-Atlantic, particularly in the New York City area, while the Democrats realized a few gains of their own in the Midwest and South.

All these patterns will be explored in later posts. The remainder of this one focuses on the electoral transformation of the north-central region of the country. This area has been trending “red” for some time. Here the Republicans picked up two House seats in 2022 and three in 2020 . But as recently as 2008, a radically different electoral geography appears, as the Democrats then held most of the region’s seats. Even the Dakotas are blue on the 2008 map. The political transformation of this general region can also be seen in recent presidential elections. The next set of maps moves the frame of reference a bit to the east and south to illustrate this electoral transformation. As is readily visible, non-metropolitan areas of Minnesota, Iowa, northern Missouri, Illinois, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have seen a pronounced red shift over the past 30 years. This transformation is particularly notable in Minnesota. In the landslide election of 1984, Minnesota was the only state to opt for Democrat Walter Mondale over Republican Ronald Reagan; in 2020 Donald Trump lost Minnesota, but only by a narrow margin.

In Minnesota’s 2022 midterm election, the Democrats performed well. Democratic Tim Waltz won the gubernatorial election with 52.3 percent of the vote, but more importantly the Democrats established control over both branches of the state legislature. As can be seen on the first map below, the Democratic Party thus established “trifecta” control in Minnesota, just as it did in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But the metropolitan/non-metropolitan divide continues to deepen, as can be seen in maps of the Minnesota State House of Representatives. In 2022, the Democrats triumphed here because they dominated the vote in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan region. Peripheral Minnesota, on the other hand, is almost entirely red. Even the mining country of the northeast, historically one of the most solid Democratic strongholds in the country, supported Republican candidates in the 2022 state legislative elections. Contrastingly, the Twin Cities metropolitan area has been moving further in the “blue” direction.

 

For Minnesota as a whole, the modest blue shift in the 2022 election seems to be closely linked to the pro-Trump stance of several prominent Republican candidates. A argued by Minnesota State Representative Emma Greenman in a MINNPOST article:

From the top of the ticket, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen repeatedly refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and publicly suggested that Secretary of State Steve Simon should be jailed. The Republican candidate running to be Minnesota’s chief elections officer, Kim Crockett called herself “the election denier in chief” … . In the statewide match-up that put the issue of democracy directly to voters, Secretary of State Steve Simon soundly beat Kim Crockett and won more votes than any other statewide candidate. In Minnesota’s swing legislative districts, DFLer* challengers defeated extremist election deniers, including an incumbent from Circle Pines who is a member of the Oathkeepers, and a St. Peter incumbent who attended and defended the Jan. 6 Storm the Capitol rally in St. Paul.

Similar results were found in other states in which Republican nominees strongly supported Donald Trump and questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, as we shall see in later posts.

* The Minnesota affiliate of the U.S. Democratic Party is officially called the “Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party,” or DFL.

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