Nov. 25 (UPI) -- While it did take back the White House and add ground in the Senate, the Democratic Party underperformed in the House races this year, which political experts say could be a harbinger of the next vote two years from now.
The party took the ultimate prize, the presidency, and still has a shot at taking control of the Senate, but Democrats lost a number of House seats in an election cycle they were expected to at least hold their seats, and almost certainly gain more.
As was also the case in 2016, much of the pre-election polling also showed Democrats doing much better than they actually did -- indicating that a larger "blue wave" was coming.
Just as worrisome to some experts, Democrats were unable to flip a single state legislature, meaning Republicans will again have the upper hand in the forthcoming round of redistricting. The GOP, meanwhile, flipped New Hampshire's legislature and expanded majorities in other states.
Some experts say the party's disappointing performance in legislatures has put it in a vulnerable position for the coming years, with few apparent ways to buttress Biden's presidency.
"The most striking feature of this election is the fact that you had a legislative party that picked up net seats as their presidential candidate lost -- that is extraordinary," University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs told UPI. "The Democrats suffered a devastating loss in legislative races."
The 2020 election was atypical in many ways. In addition to a hyperpolitcized climate, a deadly pandemic that virtually killed traditional campaigning, a substantial increase in voting by mail and record voter turnout nationwide, the results of the vote followed the same script.
"For the last several decades, what we've seen were red or blue waves. That didn't happen here," Jacobs said. "The Democrats were expecting to pick 10 to 20 seats in the House, they were vying -- in their minds -- for control of the Senate, and then it didn't happen. They lost seats they were pretty confident that they would win."
The timing of the Democrats' losses was particularly bad for the party, according to Johns Hopkins University political science professor Daniel Schlozman.
"In the decade to come, the Democrats don't see much good happening because with a very narrow House majority and Republicans still in control of redistricting in a bunch a key states, it means that the U.S. House is likely to go [Republican] after 2022," he told UPI.
"The structural bias toward rural states and against Democrats in our nationalized politics also means that getting a majority of U.S. Senate seats looks unlikely for them, and the Supreme Court seems firmly in conservative hands."
The dynamics of the Democrats' legislative losses were still being parsed as intraparty disputes broke out about what went wrong and why.
On a House Democrats conference call two days after the election, party leaders and moderates blamed the failures on progressives such as Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York and their "socialist" ideas like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
Many of the House losses for Democrats were in vulnerable seats they gained during the "blue wave" of the 2018 midterms. They proved too difficult to hang onto this year, however, as Republican challengers succeeded in associating the incumbents with such policies and calls to "defund" police made by anti-racism activists, party leaders said.
That could be one reason, Jacobs says, why Democrats fared poorly in down-ballot races.
"[Ocasio-Cortez's] loud bellowing of her socialist agenda alienated voters who were not on the same page," he said. "There were warnings about the ideological extremism of the legislative party."
He said Biden, by contrast, was "very, very clear" that he's not a socialist and that presidential candidates who leaned socialist had lost in the primary round. It's a theory rejected by progressives, however.
Vermont Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders defended the performance of those advocating progressive policies, pointing out that all 112 co-sponsors of Medicare for All won their races, as did 97 of the 98 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal.
Other analysts say another part of the explanation is that Democrats persuaded many Republicans and moderates to reject Trump and vote for Biden, but those voters supported the GOP down ballot -- whereas some of those voters in 2018, without Trump on the ticket, voted Democratic as their only means to rebuke the administration.
Nevertheless, Schlozman says a major problem that confronted Democrats in this year's vote -- and likely will again in the years to come -- is that there are fewer "ticket splitters" remaining in an era of nationalized politics.
"One of the questions they face is what exactly do moderate Democrats have to offer that is distinct from the general tide of the party, which is running leftwards?" he said. "And then there's question of how much will the rising left have to censor itself to avoid becoming the party's 'national brand?'
"The answer to that is not immediately clear."