The elections of 1918 and 1946 were not identical. One happened while war still raged, though the issue seemed decided; the other did not occur until over a year after fighting had stopped. Republican gains in 1946 were roughly twice what they had been 28 years earlier. In one case (1918), Republicans subsequently held on to congressional majorities for a dozen years; in the other, they managed to do so for only a single term. Nevertheless, 1918 and 1946 share enough with one another, and with our current situation, to make it worthwhile to ask what they might tell us about 2022.
At the least, these two elections represented decisive electoral backlash against crisis policies – policies that voters tolerated while the crisis was hot but turned against when the danger had seemingly passed. Our crisis, a pandemic, is not a war, but it has been costly in lives lost. The U.S. is nearing a COVID death toll twice as great as the number of Americans who died in World War II. Like the world wars, the crisis has also been costly in terms of government spending, the bill for which is coming due in the form of higher inflation. And the crisis has occasioned a forceful intrusion of government into daily life unparalleled since World War II, from mask mandates to proposed vaccine mandates to lockdowns that closed thousands of businesses, churches, and schools. Whatever the efficacy of these measures – they will be debated for years to come – there can be little doubt that they represented an extraordinary degree of regimentation and an extraordinary challenge to civil liberties.
Is a backlash building ahead of the 2022 midterms?