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Here are 5 key questions to prep you for the coming days of the 2022 election season

People cast their vote on Election Day at P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan Elementary on Nov. 2, 2021 in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago
Getty Images
People cast their vote on Election Day at P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan Elementary on Nov. 2, 2021 in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City.

Election Day is almost here! Well, almost. Tens of millions have already voted, and the election is likely to extend beyond Tuesday for days, if not weeks. Several races, especially in the Senate, are expected to be razor tight and control of the chamber may not be known for a while.

Here are five questions to help you think about this next phase of election season.

1. Have things settled back to a typical midterm environment?

It seemed for a while — from late June after the Dobbs decision overturning Roe through September — that Democrats might defy political gravity and not suffer the kinds of losses that are so typical for the president's party in his first midterm. But in the past few weeks, much of the available data show things moving back in Republicans' direction. Concerns over inflation and the economy continue to top voters' concerns, and Democratic enthusiasm numbers are lagging behind GOP pillar groups. That said, Democratic Senate candidates are still locked in neck-and-neck races with their GOP opponents. So no one really knows what's going to happen with the Senate exactly — and don't believe anyone who seems to think they do.

2. How big is the GOP wave in the House?

Republicans are very likely to take control of the House — they only need to flip five seats, and after redistricting they're already favored in seven (seats that are deemed likely or solid Republican), according to the Cook Political Report. Cook, which attempts to forecast these things, has upped their projection from 10-20 seats to 12-25.Those margins are going to be key for whether Democrats can live to fight another cycle. The presidential election of 2024 is going to be intense, and the Senate landscape is even more favorable to Republicans that year.

Democrats, of course, have an even-money chance of winning the presidency again in 2024 (remember, you can't draw anything from midterms about what it might mean for a presidential). But if a Republican does win the White House, Democrats' best hope of blunting a potential GOP president's agenda will likely be through the House. So they need to keep those losses to a minimum in these key, close House races to have a shot at doing that. A lot of this really depends on whether key Democratic groups show up to vote — or not.

3. Can Democrats turn out their base voters with Donald Trump not on the ballot?

There has never been a greater turnout machine for Democrats than Trump. Sure, Trump fires up his base, but he also fires up Democrats. Progressives and younger voters were never thrilled with President Biden, but they voted for him to oust Trump from office. This is the first election post-Trump, and while he's played a prominent role in these elections and many of the candidates running are running in Trump's image, Democratic base voter group enthusiasm is down across the board — young voters, Black voters, Latinos — with the exception of white women with college degrees, who list abortion as their top voting issue.

Gen Z/Millennial voters also list abortion rights as their top voting concern, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, and it's clear Democratic activists are trying to use that to get them to the polls. But they are the group with the lowest level of interest in these elections. That's not atypical for a midterm election, but the gap between older voters and younger voters in the survey are exceedingly wide — 35 points. Democrats likely need youth voter turnout to be around 30% to do well, but that's likely going to be tough. Black voters are going to be key in tight Senate races, like Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina, while Latinos are going to bekey in Nevada (as will Asian American voters) and Arizona. But each of those latter groups list inflation and the cost of living as their top concern.

4. How much do candidates matter?

It's no secret that Republicans have fielded in the Senate some ... challenging candidates. Trump boosted Herschel Walker in Georgia and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, as well as J.D. Vance in Ohio and Ted Budd in North Carolina. And Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, it's safe to say, is not the strongest candidate Republicans could have put forward. Oz's and Walker's races are going to be key because for Democrats to hold the Senate, they're going to need to win three of four of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.

It's going to be a real test of the strength of party identification, which we know is pretty darn strong, and, more importantly, the strength of Trump's brand in purple states. With this environment, Democrats are only in these races because of the lagging performances of these Trump candidates. He continues to be unpopular with a majority of Americans, and if Democrats hold the Senate because candidates in his image lose, there will be lots of finger-pointing in Trump's direction, even though he will claim credit regardless — and as people close to him are strongly suggesting he will announce a presidential run shortly after the midterms.

5. How smoothly will voting go and what kind of chaos will election-denying candidates bring if they lose?

Again, think of this as Election Season, not Election Day. It's possible, if not likely, the Georgia Senate race, for example, goes to a Dec. 6 runoff. There's a Libertarian on the ballot, where lots of protest votes could go and keep either Walker or Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock below 50%, which is needed to avoid a runoff.

There have been eyebrows raised about people with arms at voting places; voting rules and access have changed in a lot of places; and people are expected to vote by mail in bigger numbers than in any midterm in history. There is just going to be a lot of confusion on election night about vote numbers, where they are coming from, what shifts look like in favor of one party or another in multiple states.

This is all expected and not nefarious, but you can expect that some, if not many of the election-denying candidates or running and perpetuating Trump's election lies will test things out and not concede elections they lost. How widespread that will be is anyone's guess — but we are clearly in a new era of U.S. elections that is very uncertain.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.