Acceptance proved harder. Some Democrats were more adept than others at feeling voters’ pain; in February, a group of vulnerable senators, for instance, urged Mr. Biden to freeze the federal gas tax. But, on the whole, the public held Democrats responsible for their pinched wallets, regardless of what the party said or did.
Even the Inflation Reduction Act, the product of 18 months of messy talks on Capitol Hill, landed with a whisper. Relatively few Americans were aware of provisions to cap the price of insulin and allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, even though they were individually popular. As Sean McElwee of the progressive polling group Data for Progress put it, “Voters don’t know a ton about the bill or what was in it.”
The country is as closely divided as ever.
The chief force in American politics remains its deep partisan divide. There were indeed some ticket-splitters on Tuesday, but in general Democrats turned out en masse for Democrats, and Republicans for Republicans. In years past, Mr. Biden’s low approval ratings and inflation stuck at 40-year-highs might have augured a convincing drubbing for his party. Harry Truman lost 55 House seats in his first midterms; Bill Clinton lost 53; Barack Obama lost 63.
That kind of rebuke didn’t happen to Mr. Biden. It is rarely how American politics works anymore. There are fewer true swing voters than ever — and a dwindling number of swingable races.