By Hannah Fingerhut and Jeff Amy/ The Associated Press
Seung Lee cast his ballot in one of America’s most politically contested states this month, happily supporting the re-election of Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp. But when it came to the other top Republican on the ballot, Senate nominee Herschel Walker, he was uneasy.
Walker “don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Lee, a software tester in Decatur, an Atlanta suburb, who ended up supporting incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
He was just one of hundreds of thousands of voters across the US who have split their tickets in critical contests for gubernatorial mansions and congressional seats this year.
Voters choosing to split their tickets or oppose their party altogether may have helped Democrats perform stronger than expected in the midterm elections. AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of this year’s voters, underscores how picky voters were in their choice, despite today’s highly polarized political climate, often rewarding candidates perceived as mainstream while rejecting those deemed too were viewed extremely.
In Georgia, Kemp won more than 200,000 more votes than Walker, a former soccer star who has faced difficulties throughout his campaign, including his exaggerations about his business record, allegations of violence against his first wife and allegations from two former girlfriends that he paid for her abortions. His overwhelming number of votes forced him to a runoff with Warnock.
While 7 out of 10 Georgia voters for Kemp said they enthusiastically supported him, only about half of Republican Walker’s voters said so, according to VoteCast. Among Walker supporters, about 4 in 10 said they had reservations about supporting him, and about 1 in 10 said they were simply opposed to the other candidates.
Elsewhere, the dynamic was even clearer.
In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro won the governor’s race by a larger margin than John Fetterman in the Senate race, receiving nearly 280,000 more votes. Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May, was struggling with health concerns in a close race with star Republican surgeon Mehmet Oz.
VoteCast showed that 8% of Pennsylvania voters split their tickets. Among voters who identified themselves as Republicans, a whopping 9% opted for Democrat Fetterman and even more – 18% – for Shapiro.
Ticket splitting in this election was particularly notable as it has been less evident in recent cycles, “as voters have become more polarized and partisan,” said G. Terry Madonna, senior fellow-in-residence for political affairs at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
VoteCast shows that voters for Oz and Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, were less enthusiastic than voters for Fetterman and Shapiro.
Shapiro’s voters surpassed that of Democratic compatriot Fetterman in enthusiasm. Though many voters have no confidence in Fetterman’s health, VoteCast reveals that Pennsylvania voters were slightly more concerned about Oz’s familiarity with the state.
About 4 in 10 voters for Republican Mastriano said they supported him with reservations, and about 1 in 10 supported him to oppose other candidates. Overall, about two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters were concerned that Mastriano, who commissioned buses to attend the rally ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, had views that were “too extreme.” Only about 4 out of 10 said that about Shapiro.
Mastriano “had a base among[former President Donald]Trump’s staunchest supporters, that’s why he got the nomination, but he couldn’t expand that base,” said Madonna of Millersville University. “Establishment Republicans have also moved away from him.” Madonna indicated that many are comfortable with that, given some of Shapiro’s more moderate positions, including on the issue of fracking.
In Wisconsin and Michigan, incumbent Democratic governors defeated Republican challengers supported by Trump and repeated his rejection of the 2020 result.
Sixty-three percent of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers voters said they enthusiastically supported their nominee, but only 47% of Republican Tim Michels supporters. About as many Michels voters indicated that they supported him with reservations. In contrast, in the race for the US Senate, 54 percent of voters for the victorious Republican incumbent Ron Johnson were enthusiastic about him.
Michels was a weaker candidate — “he had some liabilities,” said Charles Franklin, director of the poll at Wisconsin’s Marquette Law School. And in the Senate race, although Johnson won re-election against Democrat Mandela Barnes, the margin was narrower than his wins in 2016 or 2010.
“I think there’s a strong case here that the Democrat turnout advantage boosted the governor’s race by a little over two points compared to four years ago, while also tightening the Senate race to just that one point advantage for Johnson. said Franklin.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer received more enthusiastic support than Republican competitor Tudor Dixon. More than Whitmer feared Dixon was “too extreme” in their political views, 62% versus 46%. About 1 in 10 Republican voters supported the Democrat.
Arizona stands out from the rest when it comes to enthusiasm. Democrat Katie Hobbs defeated Republican Kari Lake in the gubernatorial race, although Lake voters showed more enthusiasm for the former TV news anchor.
Forty-six percent of Hobbs supporters said they enthusiastically supported her, compared to 56 percent of Lake supporters. 41 percent of Hobbs voters supported her with reservations, while 12 percent voted against the other candidates.
Lake, who more than once suggested to the “McCain Republicans” that they were not at home in their coalition, may have put off the more moderate members of the party.
As in other states, Arizona voters were more concerned that Lake’s political views were “too extreme” compared to Hobbs’, 59% versus 51%. Eleven percent of voters who identified as Republican supported Democrat Hobbs, including 25 percent of Republicans who identified as moderate or liberal.
“I think what you’re seeing is that this weird coalition has developed… we call it the pro-democracy coalition,” said Reed Galen, co-founder of The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump GOP group. “A combination of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans moving to the Democratic nominee because they see that person as the most approachable.”
“But we shouldn’t underestimate how close a lot of these races were,” he added. “That’s why we call these things the small numbers game.”
Fingerhut reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. For more details on the AP VoteCast methodology, visit https://www.ap.org/votecast.