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Notre Dame students react to 2018 midterm election season

and | Monday, November 19, 2018

Editor’s note: Throughout the 2018 midterm election season, The Observer sat down with various student organizations and professors to discuss political engagement and issues particularly pertinent to students. In this eighth installment, students and political organizations discuss next steps and reactions to midterm elections.

It was a night of record-high voter turnout, delayed local results, recounts across the country and an observable uptick in youth political engagement.

Across campus Nov. 6, students of all ideologies gathered in front of televisions to watch as the 2018 midterm election season came to a close. With a number of campus watch parties and Election Day events, both partisan and nonpartisan student organizations communicated a range of reactions to high-stake conclusions of the day.

Courtesy of Kylie Ruscheinski
Students gathered to watch 2018 midterm election results Nov. 6 at a ND Votes watch party in Geddes Hall. More than 2,000 students registered to vote and applied for absentee ballots on campus.

Senior Aileen Markovitz, who in the 2016 election season researched student voting engagement at Notre Dame at the Center for Social Concerns, noted “more turnout than the usual midterm season, especially for women.”

Markovitz said she expected more engagement this season due to the current political climate.

“I think the nature of the presidential administration that we have is more polarizing,” she said. “People are more engaged [in talking] about it.”

More than 2,000 students registered to vote and applied for absentee ballots on campus, senior Kylie Ruscheinski, co-chair of the ND Votes Task Force, said in an email.

“The increased turnout nationally … continues to highlight that politics and voting are not only for presidential elections,” she said.

Senior Sarah Brown, president of BridgeND, said fostering civil discourse between political parties can be more challenging during the midterms season.

“I do think the hardest time for BridgeND to do what it does is right before an election,” she said. “Because the tribalism starts to happen when you get really close, and Democrats group with Democrats and Republicans group with Republicans.”

Encouraging those less interested in politics to vote during midterms can also be difficult, Brown added.

“Not everyone engaged with midterms the way they did with presidential elections,” she said.

Sophomore Kevin Gallagher, vice president of BridgeND, said he believes many decisions made during this year’s midterms have the potential to set precedents for future elections.

“I think moving forward, there are a lot of things that are going to be different,” he said. “In Florida, 1.5 million people … had their voting rights restored. I think this election has a lot of implications for every other election.”

Senior Jack Grogan, co-president of Notre Dame College Democrats, characterized St. Joseph County as a “bright spot” in a “tough night” for Indiana Democrats.

“After talking with my fellow College Democrats, it seems as if most people were enthusiastic about the results,” Grogan said in an email. “There was obviously some disappointment at losing ground in the Senate, especially following the narrow defeat of Beto O’Rourke in Texas but, on the whole, it was a good night.”

Democrats taking the majority in the House of Representatives was another highlight of midterm elections, Grogan added. 

“Specifically, a Democratic House will ensure that Obamacare is protected and hopefully strengthened,” he said. “The families of many Notre Dame students rely on insurance purchased through the Obamacare exchanges so the continued access to that healthcare is a great victory for our Notre Dame community.”

Notre Dame College Republicans held a club viewing of election results. Secretary of the organization, sophomore John Hale, said the atmosphere was “electric” as people frantically analyzed the returns.

“The party of the incumbent almost always takes a hit in the midterms, so we were excited to see our party do well,” Hale said in an email. “We as a club are very enthusiastic and excited for the accomplishments of the 116th Congress.”

As co-director of volunteers for St. Joseph County, graduate student Patrick Doherty volunteered with the campaign of Mike Braun, the Republican Senator-elect in Indiana. Braun defeated Joe Donnelly, the incumbent Democrat candidate, by about 134,000 votes on Nov. 6.

“I believe that the impact to Notre Dame itself may not be immediately noticeable, but will be positive,” Doherty said in an email. “Braun is in support of making the personal tax cuts permanent. The benefits of this are already felt among the graduate students and those of us at Notre Dame who work while going to school.”

Junior Steven Higgins, the organizer of Converge, a new program meant to encourage conversation between students of differing political beliefs, said he noticed a mixed reaction from students, with some disheartened and others optimistic. He predicted a level of congressional gridlock not seen “in a while.”

“Just having conversations is going to be important,” Higgins said. “Just based off the last three years and [now] actually having one chamber of Congress with Democratic control, I just think that that’s going to put up partisan pressures and there’s going to be more political rancor than there was before. I would hope that wouldn’t get translated into the Notre Dame community, but there’s certainly a potential for that.”

The simple fact, Higgins said, is political engagement doesn’t happen every two or four years — it has to be maintained “throughout a lifetime.”

“Yes, we have this intimate interaction with our government on Election Day and that’s something that everybody should take part in, but that’s not the end of it because the legislation starts — that’s what’s going to be happening now,” he said.

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she served as Editor-in-Chief at The Observer for the 2019-20 term. She is pursuing majors in political science and television with a minor in journalism. // Twitter: @KelliSmithNews

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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