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Key takeaways: Democrats avoid Biden backlash and hold their own in 2022 races

Analysis: The returns show Biden’s low job approval ratings and the pain of inflation didn't have the impact Republicans had hoped for.
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ATLANTA — An election that Republicans hyped as a red wave is turning out to be anything but, with Democrats over-performing the expectations of many in House and Senate races.

The results are not final and control of both the House and the Senate remain up for grabs, despite Democrats going into the election with wafer-thin majorities. Expectations of widespread GOP gains have not been realized, even though the party retains a chance at winning the Senate, and a plausible shot at the House.

Here are five takeaways from the 2022 election results so far.

Biden backlash fails to materialize

It had become the norm. Donald Trump had suffered a backlash. So had Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. But Joe Biden? Not so much, it seems.

For Democrats, the returns show scant evidence of a backlash to Biden's low job approval ratings and the pain of inflation, which was expected by some to sink a swath of Democratic incumbents and candidates in what is typically a tough election for the party in power. Biden may have bucked that trend.

The 44% of voters who approve of Biden overwhelmingly backed Democratic candidates. Voters who "somewhat" disapprove of Biden, notably, preferred Democrats to Republicans by a margin of 49% to 45%, according to the NBC News Exit Poll.

A mere 30% said they want Biden to run for president in 2024. Yet, among the 67% who said they didn’t want him to run for re-election, 31% backed Democratic candidates.

Democratic incumbents held their own in a swath of competitive seats that the GOP had targeted for pickups, such as Virginia's 7th Congressional District, south of Alexandria, and New Hampshire's Senate race. And some candidates "flipped" Republican-held seats in tough contests such as Pennsylvania's Senate race and Ohio's 1st Congressional District in the Cincinnati suburbs.

A plurality of voters said Biden was "not a factor" in their vote, and those voters picked Democrats by a 60% to 37% margin.

Red-to-blue suburbs stay blue after Trump

With Trump out of office for two years, one of the big questions of the 2022 cycle is whether the well-educated suburbs that abandoned the GOP and voted for Democratic candidates in recent cycles would stick with Democrats or flip back. They appear to be staying put.

Whether it's the booming Atlanta metropolitan area, the Philadelphia suburbs, the D.C. suburbs or northern Virginia, the red-to-blue trends are persisting, with college-educated voters exhibiting little desire to return to the Republican tent. (That trend helped Democrats like Pennsylvania's John Fetterman win his Senate race and House members such as Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger win competitive races in Virginia.)

NBC News national exit polls show Democrats winning white college graduates, once a stronghold of the GOP.

In addition, 28% of voters said their vote in House races was "to oppose Trump," and 90% of them backed Democrats.

Inflation helped the GOP, but modestly

Rising costs — long seen by Republicans as the issue that they could ride to a huge victory — appears to have delivered only modest benefits to the party.

The NBC News Exit Poll found that 31% of voters ranked inflation as their top concern, and 71% of them voted Republican. But other voters doubted the GOP would be better at tackling inflation — the party had only a 12-point advantage over Democrats when voters were asked whom they trust more to handle inflation, far from the runaway gains the issue was thought to be able to deliver them.

The Roe v. Wade fallout is real

The NBC News Exit Poll found that 61% said they're dissatisfied or angry about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, while 37% said they're enthusiastic or satisfied.

Of that 61%, a whopping 71% voted for Democratic candidates while 27% voted for Republicans candidates, illustrating the salience of a conservative Supreme Court majority built by the GOP overturning the constitutional right to an abortion.

Gun control is now a winning issue for Democrats

Fifty-six percent of 2022 voters support stricter gun control measures, while 40% oppose them, the NBC News Exit Poll found.

Among the proponents of stricter measures, 76% backed Democratic candidates while 22% favored Republicans, illustrating the salience of the cause of tougher gun laws. It's a far cry from a decade ago, when Democrats tended to fear single-issue pro-gun voters would overwhelm gun control proponents and punish them at the ballot box for pursuing tougher laws against firearms.