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Panelists discuss outcomes of 2022 midterm elections

On Wednesday evening, the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study hosted a panel discussing the implications of the 2022 midterm elections results on democracy, abortion and the 2024 presidential election.

The panel was moderated by political science professor David Campbell and included Notre Dame alum and New York Times opinion columnist Carlos Lozada, Notre Dame political science professor Christina Wolbrecht and associate Notre Dame political science professor Ricardo Ramirez.

While the results of Tuesday’s elections are still being determined and control of the House and Senate has not yet been decided, the general consensus of the panelists was that Republicans had underperformed in a year that was supposed to bring about a “red wave” of Republican victories. 

“Going into this election, inflation is high, the President’s approval rating was low, [there were] lots of reasons to think that this was going to be just a major win for Republicans,” Campbell said. “While we’re waiting for the final results […] this was no red wave, Democrats held out in many parts of the country.”

The panelists floated a number of theories as to the possible reason for this somewhat surprising outcome.

“If the Republicans hadn’t put up such unorthodox, unappetizing candidates, in contested elections, perhaps you’d be seeing an easier takeover of the House and with Republican control of the Senate,” Lazada stated. 

Wolbrecht argued that elections where one party wins a massive majority may be becoming a thing of the past.

“We are in this period of incredibly strong mass partisanship, where people’s party ID matches up with their class idea, their ethnic or racial identity matches up with their rural versus urban identity, it matches up with all their religious identity,” Wolbrecht said. “So, people don’t move much.”

Backlash to the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court this summer in the Dobbs v. Jackson case was also discussed as a possible explanation for Republican underperformance.

“Now that the standing Supreme Court decision does not protect the right to access abortions, it may be that, that was enough to sort of mobilize pro-choice voters to vote differently,” Wolbrecht said.

Lozada argued that Dobbs may have spurred an increase in Democratic fundraising.

“Whether or not it animated individual voters, it animated fundraising, it animated other elements of the political machinery that can help turn out votes,” he said.

Ramirez argued that young, particularly latino voters, are more pro-choice and may have helped Democrats.

Wolbrecht did admit, however, that it is unclear what the effect of Dobbs v. Jackson was.

“The truth is a lot of the information that we would want to have to sort of decide, was abortion pushing Democrats over in certain places, we just simply don’t have right now,” Wolbrecht cautioned.

According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, in final message to voters, many Democrats emphasized the importance of protecting democracy in this election, with President Biden claiming that “democracy is on the ballot.” When asked how democracy did this election, the panelists were cautiously optimistic.

Wolbrecht pointed out that there was a marked decrease in claims of election frauds.

“Players who lost are all conceding their elections,” she stated. “They’re not saying that this one was also stolen. They’re not saying others were stolen.”

Lozada urged the panelists to be cautious, however.

“It seemed a little premature to declare victory for democracy,” Lozada said. “It’s not clear to me that what happened today necessarily proves that or undoes the kind of illiberal term that we’ve seen in some parts of the American political system over the past few years.”

Despite the fact that this year’s election results have not even been finalized yet, discussion turned to the 2024 Presidential election and how Tuesday night’s results might impact potential 2024 candidates.

First discussed was the effect of the race on former President Donald Trump.

“A lot of the Trump backed candidates lost,” Lozada pointed out, citing Republican losses in Pennsylvania, Michigan as well as possibly Arizona and Georgia.

“The easy outcome is this is bad for Trump,” he added. Trump is widely expected to announce his candidacy for president in the coming weeks, which is unusually early for a presidential candidate.

The biggest winner for Republicans this election was Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida who won his reelection bid by almost 20% percentage points after originally being elected in 2018 by a meager 0.4% of votes, according to Politico. Many have pointed to DeSantis as a potential rival to Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president.

Ramirez argued that the midterm elections positioned DeSantis well for a 2024 run.

“The fact that you had this mini wave in Florida, that puts DeSantis as the winner,” he argued adding, “Relatively poor performance of the Republicans outside of Florida is so much better for Ron DeSantis because it’s like, ‘look, I was unique.’”

When it comes to Democrats in 2024, the panelists pointed out, the implications of this year’s election are not as readily apparent. Lozada argued that this year’s solid showing for Democrats could cause Biden to seek the nomination again, saying, “[maybe] Democrats doing better than expected in this midterm actually, makes the party hang on to Joe Biden longer than they should have, and then to run for reelection.” 

Wolbrecht, on the other hand, argued that the results could cause more Democrats to throw their hat in the ring.

“One interpretation of the 2022 election is that it is a good time to be a Democrat. And so that the nomination in 2024 is all the more valuable, right, because the tide is coming our way,” Wolbrecht said.

In the coming days, or even hours, the results of the election will be finalized, and the fate of the House and the Senate will become clear. No matter the outcome, the country is sure to continue fervently discussing these issues as 2024 quickly approaches.

Contact Liam Kelly at lkelly8@nd.edu.

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