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The Number That Will Shape Republican Politics In 2023

This video is part of our series “The Numbers That Defined 2022.”


Transcript

Maya Sweedler: One of the most important numbers coming out of 2022 is nine. That’s the difference between the number of seats Republicans won in the U.S. House of Representatives in November and the number of seats Democrats won.

If you’re thinking, “hey, that’s a pretty small number” — yeah, you’re right! Coming into the midterms, history suggested that the Republican Party would wind up with a much larger majority. Prior to the election, Democrats controlled 222 seats and Republicans 213, which meant Republicans only needed to pick up five seats to take the chamber — anything else would just be padding. And usually, the president’s party loses a lot of seats in midterm years. Since World War II, the party in the White House had lost an average of 26 House seats in midterm elections.

In 2022, Democrats only lost about one-third of that. While there are a ton of different explanations for why that is — redistricting, candidate quality issues, the Dobbs decision — the fact of the matter is that this number will be hugely important to the functioning of the government for at least the next two years.

We have a divided government. Democrats control the White House and the Senate, and now Republicans control the House. But winning just nine more seats than Democrats means that the Republican caucus has very little room for error. If more than four representatives defect, it won’t have enough votes to pass bills with a majority vote. We’re already seeing the headaches this could create for Republicans — just look at how hard it’s been for them to elect a new House speaker. Current Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy needs 218 votes to become speaker of the House, and with a small but vocal faction of far-right Republicans opposed to his leadership, he has a lot of calls to make over Christmas.

Maya Sweedler is a copy editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Michael Tabb is a video and motion graphics producer at FiveThirtyEight.

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