Despite Modest G.O.P. Gains, Democrats Maintain Grasp on Suburbs

MARIETTA, Ga. — Suburban voters famously rejected Donald J. Trump twice, first by handing Democrats a congressional majority in 2018, then by largely paving the road to the White House for President Biden in 2020.

Heading into this November, a key question was whether suburbanites would remain in the Democratic camp again, or snap back to favor Republicans, delivering the kind of sharp rebuke that presidents have come to expect in their first midterm election.

The answer: Despite a small swing of the pendulum back toward the G.O.P. in 2022, Democrats largely held onto their gains among suburban voters, particularly in battleground states.

A New York Times analysis of voting in the suburban counties surrounding 25 of the largest U.S. cities shows that modest Republican gains did not completely roll back recent Democratic inroads. Republicans, in other words, had a decent 2022 in the suburbs, but it was not as good a year for them as Democrats experienced in 2018 and 2020.

The Philadelphia suburbs, for example, shifted by four percentage points toward Democratic candidates between the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. But those suburbs shifted by only two percentage points toward Republicans between the 2020 presidential election and this year’s contests for House seats.

Suburban Denver, which had a nine-point swing in Democrats’ favor two years ago, shifted only a single percentage point back toward the G.O.P. this year.

The Aftermath of the 2022 Midterm Elections

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A moment of reflection. In the aftermath of the midterms, Democrats and Republicans face key questions about the future of their parties. With the House and Senate now decided, here’s where things stand:

Biden’s tough choice. President Biden, who had the best midterms of any president in 20 years as Democrats maintained a narrow hold on the Senate, feels buoyant after the results. But as he nears his 80th birthday, he confronts a decision on whether to run again.

Is Trump’s grip loosening? Ignoring Republicans’ concerns that he was to blame for the party’s weak midterms showing, Donald J. Trump announced his third bid for the presidency. But some of his staunchest allies are already inching away from him.

G.O.P leaders face dissent. After a poor midterms performance, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell faced threats to their power from an emboldened right flank. Will the divisions in the party’s ranks make the G.O.P.-controlled House an unmanageable mess?

A new era for House Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve in the post and the face of House Democrats for two decades, will not pursue a leadership post in the next Congress. A trio of new leaders is poised to take over their caucus’s top ranks.

Divided government. What does a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-run Senate mean for the next two years? Most likely a return to the gridlock and brinkmanship that have defined a divided federal government in recent years.

The failed Republican comeback in the suburbs helps explain how a broadly predicted red wave last month wound up more like a puddle, with the G.O.P. barely capturing a majority in the House of Representatives and falling short in most closely watched races for governor and Senate.

In Georgia, where the Atlanta suburbs swung four points toward Democrats between 2016 and 2020 — enabling Mr. Biden to carry the state and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to win Senate seats — Republicans improved their performance in House races this year by just two percentage points. And Democrats clinched another runoff victory with Mr. Warnock’s re-election last week.

In the Georgia Senate runoff, Senator Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker by 20 percentage points in Cobb County.Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

Jennifer Turpin, a cafeteria manager for the Cobb County schools, was part of the Democrats’ surge in suburban Atlanta. She said she was roused from political apathy by Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, and joined a grass-roots group, East Cobb Liberal Moms, which organizes to elect Democrats. This year, she was especially motivated by a desire to protect abortion rights, and even persuaded her 27-year-old son, Conner — a Trump voter in 2020 — to cast a ballot for Mr. Warnock over the issue.

“This would be the second time we’ve saved America for the Democrats,” Ms. Turpin said.

There were some outliers in 2022, places where Republicans did undo recent Democratic gains.

In the suburbs of New York City, for example, Gov. Kathy Hochul proved a weak Democratic standard-bearer, and Democrats were unable to point to an urgent threat to abortion rights, while Republicans mounted a visceral campaign assailing Democrats over crime. The result: The four-point shift toward Democrats in 2020 was more than undone by a five-point swing toward Republicans.

In Texas and Florida, where strong Republican governors were up for re-election, their coattails helped the G.O.P. more than make up for their earlier losses in the suburbs of Dallas, Houston and Tampa.

But in battleground states like Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, the pattern of small Republican gains after earlier and broader Democratic success was consistent.

Arena Jackson with her daughter, Priya. The family moved to the suburbs from Atlanta five years ago.Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

Andy Reilly, a member of the Republican National Committee and former county commissioner in suburban Philadelphia, credited Democrats with persuading suburban voters that abortion rights and democracy were on the ballot.

He also expressed concern about Republican prospects in the suburbs, citing his reading of the local obituary pages. “As a politician, you learn a lot there,” Mr. Reilly said. “You see that older, middle-class, core Republican voters who grew up and lived a conservative lifestyle are passing on.”

William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said his analysis of exit polls last month confirmed such an impression. “Young people, people of color and college-educated women — all heavily represented in the suburbs — had much to do with curbing the predicted red wave,” Mr. Frey said.

Voters under 30 cast their ballots for Democratic congressional candidates in 2022 by an even larger margin than the one by which they preferred Mr. Biden two years ago. Among women, those under 45 also voted more Democratic than they did in 2020.

“The young population is becoming very diverse,” Mr. Frey said. “The Republican Party has a Trump image, which is ‘Let’s go back to the ’50s, a whiter America.’ That doesn’t play with this generation.”

No place embodies the evolving politics of America’s suburbs more than Georgia’s Cobb County. Once a symbol of white flight from Atlanta, the county has trended strongly Democratic in recent years with increasing racial and ethnic diversity. It attracts middle-class Black newcomers from the city as well as from around the country.

Cobb County voted in 2012 for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, by 12 percentage points. Just eight years later, Mr. Biden carried Cobb by 14 points.

Voting signs along a road in Marietta, Ga.Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

Arena Jackson moved to Cobb five years ago with her husband and baby daughter from Atlanta, where they had lived in an apartment.

“We wanted to own our single-family home,” said Ms. Jackson, 40, a neuroscience researcher at Morehouse School of Medicine. They also wanted better schools, she said.

Their neighborhood was largely white, but “has slowly become more diverse since we moved here five years ago,” said Ms. Jackson, who is Black. “On one side of my house we have a Latino family and on the other side, the owner is Persian, from Iran.”

As Ms. Jackson explained why she had cast a vote for Mr. Warnock over Herschel Walker, her daughter, Priya, now 6 and a first-grader, chimed in with comments of her own.

“I care about someone who’s competent for the position,” Ms. Jackson said.

“Me,” her daughter added.

“I care that it’s someone who likes to work with others to get things done in government,” Ms. Jackson said.

“Like me,” Priya said.

Ms. Jackson smiled. She said she loved the suburbs.

Trip Gabriel reported from Marietta, Ga., and Ruth Igielnik from Washington.

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