Not long before the midterm elections, Donald Trump held a rally in Ohio. He claimed: “Our country is becoming a Third World nation!”. While Americans were celebrating Labor Day, he managed to swiftly avoid the ongoing criminal investigation into his unruly handling of confidential materials. In efforts to keep the Trump “flame”alive, prime Republican voters were so keen to retaliate against the 2020 election results that they chose all the wrong candidates in crucial Senate seats. What could have gone wrong for a party with such an eye-catching and flamboyant cypher? Those internationally looking for manifestations of America’s decline might remain disappointed this time around. One lesson learnt is that Trump’s ability to handle politics has not withstood the test of time.
The 2022 midterm elections are yet to be fully resolved; still awaiting results in 1 run-off election for Georgia’s seat. What can be said for now, however, is that the noteworthy takeaways from this particular election cycle point to an unpopular president (barely a 50% approval rating), who somehow managed not to capsize the Democrats. In light of political polarization being at its highest since the 1980s, it is astonishing as to how the voters were willing to detach their indignation from Biden for the sole reason of keeping Congress Democratic. The absence of the (usually) omnipresent wave of red results in flooding is indicative of that. Only a few democratic incumbents lost their congressional races. Impressively, according to exit polls, Republicans’ electoral strength came from those who “strongly disapproved” of the current president. To reiterate – Republicans were forecasted to do better.
With an unpopular president and high inflation, the stage was set for Republicans to take back both chambers of Congress easily. Instead, they look on track to just about capture the House, and the Senate will most likely stay blue. It was a disappointing result for Donald Trump, whose eclectic candidates underperformed abominably. Moreover, trends predicted a small but significant shift of Hispanic voters towards the Republicans. It could be explained by inflation being the top priority for most voters, with the Latino demographic arguably benefiting more from a more robust economy than White voters. Democrats did manage to hold onto the Hispanic vote in this cycle, with Florida being a significant outlier, in the climate of the most toxic economic environment in the last ten years.
Moreover, turnout in the midterm elections hit a reasonably strong high since 2018, with 46.9% of the eligible electorate casting a vote. Theory suggests that voters tend to mirror partisan behavior more when they have a higher turnout in an election. So, for example, there may have been a lot of sheltered Republicans voting for Democrats this time, hence the Democrats arguably overachieving.
It goes without saying that with Trump’s name still featured, the stakes of politics are raised. We have Democrat voters who are distressed about the state of democracy and social issues, which are undeniably menaced today, and we have Republicans who are intimidated by the excesses of far-left liberal ideology. Both the former and the latter have strong motivations to turn out. But, again, the stakes for “your” side also increase with increased polarization.
Heaving mentioned social issues; we can’t forget abortion. Abortion rights, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a powerful motivator for the Democratic vote. Ballot measures on abortion rights ended up favouring abortion rights in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont. At the same time, Democratic candidates won the governors’ offices in a handful of states where current anti-abortion legislation can be obstructed. Though Republicans held a majority in Nebraska, they aren’t predicted to win a supermajority which they can use to implement far-right abortion restrictions. The bottom line is that if pro-abortion rights Democrats don’t win elections, the abortion rights on the ballot still can.
With a moderately successful run in these midterm elections, Biden could step away before being told to do so, which would subsequently deny Trump the 2020 election rematch he has so eagerly awaited. This win may signal to Democrats that rebuilding democracy and protecting social rights should be more than just empty words.
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