What others say about wave elections

Welcome to the Wednesday, July 27, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. What others say about wave elections 
  2. Kansas’ upcoming primary elections 
  3. A look at the Aug. 13 Democratic primary for governor of Hawaii

What others say about wave elections 

As we continue our examination of wave elections during our “Week of Waves,” let’s take a look at how others have defined wave elections.

As a reminder, we define a wave election as the top 20% of elections over a 100-year period that had the largest losses for the incumbent president’s party.

If you were to search for waves in Google Trends or other comparative resources, you would find a variety of definitions for a wave election. Here are a few examples:

  • The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter wrote, “On paper, the grim political environment suggests the kind of wave election that rivals the wipeouts of 1994 and 2010, when the party in power lost more than 50 [U.S. House] seats.” 

But Walter also says her outlet predicts Republicans will gain between 20 and 35 seats, the reason being that, unlike in 1994 and 2010, Republicans already hold a large number of seats, leaving less room for pick-ups. 

  • The Colorado Sun’s Mike Littwin points to the issues of the day, saying a Republican wave “is obviously possible with inflation raging and Joe Biden’s approval ratings in collapse,” but adding that “[t]o avoid a wave … the Democrats will have to keep the spotlight on overturning Roe and the other radical Supreme Court rulings.”
  • In 2014, The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak wrote, “A wave election is commonly considered one in which a political party wins a large and lopsided number of House and Senate seats while sustaining minimal losses.”
  • Also in 2014, Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post, that a wave could be when a party running on a nationalized message makes gains in the House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.

According to Google Trends, overall interest in the phrase “wave election” is currently at the lower end compared to searches over the past year. But interest tends to increase close to and after general elections. The spike in the graph below, for example, corresponds to elections held in New Jersey and Virginia in 2021.

Differing definitions lead to differing interpretations of what constitutes a wave. 

During our analysis of U.S. House elections between 1918 and 2016, for example, we found that Republicans would have had to lose 48 U.S. House seats for the 2018 election to constitute a wave at that level.

Republicans lost a net 42 seats in 2018—not enough to meet our definition of a House wave.

Some outlets described that midterm as a “blue wave,” in reference to Democratic gains. But by Ballotpedia’s standards, 2018 was not a wave election year in the U.S. House.

Use the link below to learn more about our analysis of wave elections and the different interpretations you might come across as the term comes up, as it does every election cycle.

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Kansas’ upcoming primary elections 

We’re heading into the next round of primary elections! Voters in five states—Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington—will cast their ballots on Aug. 2. Yesterday, we looked at Arizona. Today, let’s turn our attention to the Sunflower State.

Congressional primaries

Voters in Kansas will elect one U.S. Senator and four U.S. Representatives. 

Incumbent Sen. Jerry Moran (R), who was first elected in 2010, is running in the Republican primary against challenger Joan Farr. Six candidates are running in the Democratic primary. George McGill, elected in 1930, was the last Democrat to serve as U.S. Senator from Kansas.

Voters will decide Democratic and Republican primaries for the state’s four U.S. House districts. Republicans represent three out of the four districts. Nine candidates filed to run in those four districts, including four Democrats and five Republicans. That’s 2.25 candidates per district, down from 4.75 in 2020 and six in 2018. Republican and Democratic candidates filed to run in all four districts, so no districts are guaranteed to either party. The Republican primary in the 3rd District was the only contested primary this year, a decade-low. That number was down from five contested primaries in 2020 and six in 2018.


Voters will also elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 125 House members. Let’s take a look at a few of those races. 

Incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly (D) is running against Richard Karnowski in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Arlyn Briggs and Derek Schmidt are running in the Republican primary. This is the only governorship Democrats are defending in 2022 in a state that Donald Trump (R) won in 2020. Trump defeated Joe Biden (D) in Kansas 56% to 42%. Kelly was first elected in 2018, defeating Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) 48-43%. 

This year, Kobach is running in the Republican primary for attorney general, alongside Tony Mattivi and Kellie Warren. This is one of 30 elections for attorney general taking place this year. Chris Mann is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. 

Voters will decide primaries for all 125 state House districts. No state Senate districts are on the ballot because the Senate holds elections every four years during presidential election cycles. 

Republicans control the state House 86-39. Thirty-eight state House primaries are contested by multiple candidates. Those primaries include 12 Democratic primaries and 26 Republican primaries. For Democrats, this is the same as in 2020. For Republicans, that number decreased 10% from 29 in 2020 to 26 in 2022.

Seventeen of the 38 contested primaries feature an incumbent, representing 17% of incumbents who are running for re-election. This is the lowest number of incumbents in contested House primaries of the past five election cycles. In 2020, 9% of incumbent legislators were defeated in primaries. That number was 6% in 2018 and 11% in 2016. 

In Kansas, the primary candidate with the most votes wins—even if that candidate receives less than 50% of the total vote. Kansas is one of 40 states without primary election runoffs. The state does not cancel uncontested primaries, and write-in candidates are required to file with the Secretary of State. 

Click below to learn more about Kansas’ upcoming elections. 

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A look at the Aug. 13 Democratic primary for governor of Hawaii

Seven candidates are running in Hawaii’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. on Aug. 13. Incumbent David Ige (D) is term-limited.

Vicky Cayetano, Joshua Green, and Kaiali’i Kahele lead in polling and media attention.

Cayetano co-founded Hawaii’s largest laundry company and served as president and CEO for 34 years. Cayetano said, “My record of building a business of a thousand employees and supporting our community is one of action and results.” In 1997, Cayetano married Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano (D), who served as governor until 2002.

Green is Hawaii’s current lieutenant governor and an emergency room physician. He said, “I’m running for Governor because Hawaii needs elected leaders we can trust — to tell us the truth, keep us safe and informed, to care about working families, and to be transparent and accountable to the people.” Green highlighted his role serving as COVID liaison while lieutenant governor. 

Kahele, a veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard, was elected to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District in 2020. Kahele said, “Congress established our great state in 1959 on the condition that the State of Hawaiʻi would establish and manage the ceded Public Land Trust for the benefit of Native Hawaiians and the general public. Ensuring that the state restores its kuleana to manage this public trust is a foundation of my platform for governor.” 

Affordable housing has been a central theme in the race. 

  • Cayetano’s campaign website states: “I propose a massive five year recurring statewide affordable rental housing plan to significantly increase the number of affordable rental housing units for Hawaii’s families.” 
  • As part of Green’s 10-point housing plan, he said that he would “[i]mmediately issue an executive order to all state and county housing agencies to speed up construction of affordable housing by eliminating red tape, streamlining processes and approvals, and coordinating efforts to address the crisis.” 
  • Kahele said he would “[build] targeted workforce housing; [develop] fee mechanisms through tax-exempt bonds and bond activity caps; and [build] out housing plans specific to urban Honolulu and the rest of the state.”

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Dan Nakaso, the candidates also disagree on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Nakaso wrote, “Kahele and Green support legalizing recreational marijuana, with caveats, while Cayetano is opposed.”

Major independent observers rate the general election as solid Democratic or safe Democratic. Ige was first elected in 2014 and won re-election in 2018 by a margin of 29 percentage points. Democrats have had trifecta control of Hawaii state government since 2011.

Also running in the primary are David “Duke” Bourgoin, Richard Kim, Clyde Lewman, and Van Tanabe.

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