Republicans lead Democrats by roughly 3.5 million votes when all 435 House elections are combined, in what analysts called a clear but not overwhelming signal of voters’ preference for the GOP.
Some ballots are still being tallied, chiefly in California, which means Democrats will make up ground. But analysts said the GOP will end up with a lead of about 3 percentage points.
In any normal year that would likely have been good enough to net about 25 seats and give the GOP 230 seats — a firm majority. Instead, Republicans are poised to hold no more than 222 seats, which would be a net gain of about 10.
It’s the latest evidence that Republicans bungled their chances this year, and it has fueled a search for answers as to why they didn’t do better.
The emerging consensus is that they ran up the vote in places where they didn’t need it.
“Simply put, Republicans picked up the votes they needed, just not where they needed them most,” Charlie Cook, a longtime analyst and founder of the Cook Political Report, wrote in a post-election piece. “Clearly something or someone intervened, affecting the outcome of the election in the places that mattered.”
Democrats have faced the problem for years, as they win urban districts such as San Francisco with tallies topping 90% of the vote.
Now Republicans are seeing the same results in places like Alabama, where they won six of seven districts, and the closest any of the Democrats came in those races was still 37 points behind.
Democrats, meanwhile, gambled a bit this year on spreading their votes around more in states where they controlled redistricting after the 2020 census.
It paid off, with the party holding seats that got marginally better for Republicans in places like Virginia, Maryland and Nevada, according to Michael McKenna, a Republican operative and former top legislative aide in the Trump White House.
“This is the first cycle inside a redistricting cycle. My guess is two years from now they’re going to regret this,” Mr. McKenna predicted.
He said many of the GOP’s first-time candidates this year came close to capturing Democrat-held seats, and two years from now some of them will likely run again with better results.
Analysts also said the GOP improved its margins among Black and Hispanic voters, often in districts where it didn’t make much difference to the outcome.
Democrats, meanwhile, improved their standing among college-educated unmarried women, helping hold suburban districts that might otherwise have flipped.
Mr. McKenna said he’d rather be on the GOP side of that trend.
“What it tells me is we are in the middle of a national realignment, and that’s going to benefit the Republicans,” he said.
As of Thursday morning, the GOP had collected 53.924 million votes in House races. Democrats had 50.436 million votes, according to the tally reported by TheGreenPapers.com, an election data website.
For Republicans, that’s 3 million more than they got in 2018, the last midterm election. Democrats, meanwhile, are currently 10.3 million votes short of their 60.7 million votes last time.
Democrats emerged from the 2018 election with a 235-199 edge in the House.
Two years before that, in 2016, Republicans emerged with a narrow 1.2-percentage-point lead over Democrats in House elections. That worked out to a 241-193 split in favor of the GOP.
In this year’s Senate races, Republicans and Democrats have won roughly equivalent votes, with the GOP at 39.196 million and Democrats at 39.247 million as of Thursday.
Senate races are a less useful yardstick because only a third of seats — or two-thirds of states — are on the ballot each election.
In House and Senate races, Republicans were more thrifty, spending less than Democrats for each vote.
The GOP spent a combined $1.19 billion on House and Senate races, according to TheGreenPapers’ tally, which works out to $12.66 per vote. Democrats spent $1.49 billion, or $16.56 per vote. That’s roughly 30% more per vote than Republicans.
David Shor, a Democratic data scientist, told the Niskanen Center’s “Science of Politics” podcast that Democrats “outperformed” in swing races, doing about 2 percentage points better in turnout than the party’s candidates in non-swing races.
“It really seems like there was a red wave everywhere in the country except for the places that mattered,” Mr. Shor said.
John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based analyst who runs JMC analytics, said he figures the final tally will be closer to about 2 percentage points difference, with the GOP in the lead.
That’s good news for pollsters, who seem to have gotten it about right. The final average of “generic ballot” polling, where voters are asked if they plan to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in their local House race, was about 2 percentage points, Mr. Couvillon said.
But beneath those numbers were very different elections playing out in different spots. Florida was very much a Republican wave, while Michigan and Pennsylvania were Democratic strongholds.
Then there were states like Arizona, where Republicans captured two House seats even as they lost the governorship and failed to win a Senate seat, and Nevada, where the GOP captured the governorship but failed to oust three Democratic House incumbents who’d been seen as vulnerable.
Mr. Couvillon said the GOP needed to win seats where President Biden won between 50% and 55% of the vote in 2020.
He said those seats were controlled by what he called “transactional Biden voters,” who backed the president last time but were persuadable. Mr. Couvillon said they helped Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin capture the governorship in Virginia last year, but the GOP just didn’t manage to persuade very many this time.
“All these seats that were in the Biden 50-55% range — very few of them flipped,” he said.