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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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Students share main priorities this midterm cycle

As election day draws nearer, non-local Notre Dame students are sending mail-in ballots back home to cast their vote, many for the first time. The issues they care about are varied, though abortion, both for pro-choice and pro-life students, is a common concern among students.

First-year Theo Austin, who sent his absentee ballot back to his home in Pittsburgh earlier this week, said he predominantly votes for pro-choice candidates. That meant that on his ballot, he voted for all Republicans.

“I view abortion as the murder of children and the fact that millions are murdered every year in our country legally is an atrocity,” Austin said. “While we can debate about economics, foreign policy, I don’t see any other issue having the effects directly on the lives of millions.”

Though she also aligns more with Republicans than Democrats, first-year Kerry O’Donoghue said her pro-choice views are among her strongest opinions.

“I have a pretty strong view on abortion issues,” she said. “I feel like forcing women to do something that they don’t necessarily want to do is probably not the best choice. Someone with more of a pro-choice perspective would appeal to me more.”

O’Donoghue, who is from Long Island, New York, said she will be “voting more for the person than the party.” Sophomore Daniel Jung, who sent his absentee ballot back home to Tampa, Florida, held a similar view.

“I’m a pretty big Catholic, so definitely someone who espouses Catholic values is something that’s important to me,” Jung said. 

Jung, a registered Independent, most strongly supports pro-life candidates but said the issue isn’t as important to him for more local candidates. On his ballot for this election, he voted for both Republican and Democrat candidates.

“For bigger positions, I tend to lean right because the issues get magnified and candidates take on issues that have pretty big implications for what the state does and the next four years,” he said. “But for lower positions like soil conservation, I don’t care what your stance is on abortion. I’m going to vote for the best person for the job, in my opinion.”

Second-year graduate student Kyle Dillon, another Long Island, New York resident, voted for all Democrats. Suffolk County, where he is from, is a predominantly Republican county and Dillon views his vote as important to show a Democrat presence in his local election.

“I vote Democratic knowing that my vote doesn’t really make an impact either way. It’s just showing the numbers that there still are people that are supporting a party whose voices still need to be heard,” Dillon said. “When it comes to midterms I’m not really thinking the most about the issues.”

First-year Molly Sullivan, from Palo Alto, California, said she will be voting Democrat largely in opposition to former president Donald Trump and because her views on gun reform, human rights, and racial and LGBTQ issues align more with Democrats.

“I don’t agree with a lot of what [Trump] says, so that kind of makes me go to the other side,” she said.

Junior Hannah Schmitz will be voting all-Republican on her absentee ballot, which she’ll be sending back to her home in Ohio. 

“A lot of the issues that matter most to me are the pro-life movement and my dad is a small business owner. So, whichever one he feels would help his business the most, and that’s usually Republican ideals, that’s who I tend to vote for,” she said.

But also there are many students who didn’t vote. In junior and registered Independent Dennis Hutchison’s case, he didn’t vote because he didn’t think it would matter.

“I don’t really think that who I elect matters because things in the federal government don’t really change all that much from administration to administration,” Hutchison said.  “I think that my vote locally matters more in terms of who my local politicians are because that more so directly impacts my life.”

Vicki Gillespie, a sophomore from Irving, Texas, didn’t vote because she was unaware of the process she had to go through to register to vote outside of her state. If she was able to vote like she had hoped, though, Gillespie said “education and making things better for marginalized people” were the most important issues to her.

Sophomore and Cleveland native Elizabeth Horwitz said she also would have liked to vote, but didn’t get around to obtaining her absentee ballot in time.

“I just didn’t put the time in,” she said. “I feel like, especially being at school, it’s a little more difficult to get the ballots and I never went through the process of getting it mailed. But I definitely would like to vote.”

Contact Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu.

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Viewpoint

Religion is for Democrats too, not just Republicans

You wouldn’t be alone in associating religion with the Republican Party and secularism with the Democratic Party. Over the last several decades, the rise of the Religious Right has cemented the fact that the Republican Party is dominated by white evangelicals inserting religious views into the party platform. Today, that sentiment is only reinforced as Republican candidates infuse Christianity into their campaign strategy. At Republican rallies this year, we’ve witnessed praise music, prayer, and other practices typically associated with religious worship. These religious practices at campaign events aren’t superfluous either, as Republican candidates call to end the separation between church and state and declare the United States a Christian nation. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has struggled with religion due to the diverse religious and non-religious portions of its membership. In an effort to not alienate voters, Democrats have avoided religious rhetoric, often joined by criticism that they aren’t doing enough outreach to religious voters. 

However, that appears to be changing. During the 2020 election, a significant number of Democrats engaged in religious outreach. During the primary campaign, then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg routinely referenced his faith to demonstrate that Democrats can be religious too. In one debate, Buttigieg employed a religious offensive against the Republican Party for hypocrisy between its platform and profession of Christianity. Other presidential hopefuls like Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and then-Senator Kamala Harris also utilized religious rhetoric, speaking about their connection to G-d and specifically Christianity. President Joe Biden worked on extensive outreach to white Catholic and white evangelical voters, reducing former President Donald Trump’s performance among those groups enough to help solidify his victory. 

Religion also made an appearance with both Democratic candidates for the two seats in the 2020-2021 U.S. Senate elections in Georgia. Senators Warnock and Ossoff’s election was a pivotal moment for the Democratic Party, securing a majority in the Senate. The infusion of his progressive views and background as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King preached, was a key factor in Senator Raphael Warnock’s victory. Although more hesitant to mention religion during the campaign, Senator Jon Ossoff referenced the Jewish values that informed his political views and became the first Jewish candidate to win statewide office in the South since 1974.

Additionally, we’re witnessing candidates in the 2022 midterm elections build off the religious momentum over the last several years. Warnock has made religion a central message of his reelection campaign, emphasizing the joint nature of devotion to faith and commitment to social justice. His messaging routinely references his religious work and how it informs his political views. Just like it delivered him for his initial election, Warnock is hoping Georgia voters will be drawn to his religious fervor. 

Also in Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, uses religion, but in a different way. As abortion becomes a pressing issue in all elections after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Abrams has discussed the role her faith has played in shaping her views on the subject. She’s openly discussed how her upbringing by Methodist preachers informed her initial stance against abortion, but she’s since changed her beliefs after viewing it as a health issue, not a moral one. Her approach to abortion opens a new vantage point for Democrats to reach voters who may be personally opposed to abortion, but are hesitant to attempts throughout the country to reduce access to it. 

In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running for governor openly as a Jew and refusing to cede religious voters to his opponent, Doug Mastriano, a state senator. Shapiro has used his devout faith to reach out to religious voters, especially Black Protestants in the state by attending worship services and speaking from the pulpit. He’s routinely referenced his faith during campaign events, hoping that some voters who typically vote Republican on religious grounds consider switching. Among other Democratic candidates who employ religious rhetoric, he’s especially notable for attacking Christian nationalism as an assault on religious liberty, especially for religious minorities.

Although religion may appear to be a new winning strategy for Democrats, it isn’t risk-free. In the last two decades, Democrats themselves have become less religious in their membership. This isn’t to say that non-religious Democrats would vote Republican, but it does risk alienation and low voter turnout. These candidates are wagering that religious rhetoric will either deliver more voters or drive voters away from Republicans, but the threat of alienation will always be present for a party as religiously diverse as the Democratic Party. This isn’t to argue that Democrats who reference religion will lose (we’ve seen that’s not always the case), but to point out there’s a reason why Democrats have been cautious about religious rhetoric in the past. Even if elected, the division in the Democratic Party between the religious and non-religious suggests that while religious rhetoric may contribute to electoral victory, it doesn’t necessarily translate to religious influence in policymaking. 

This column is not an endorsement of religion as a political tool for Democrats or Republicans. The question of religion’s role in politics is separate from my observations of the trends in the Democratic Party. The last few years are a demonstration that Democrats can successfully utilize religion as an outreach method on the campaign trail. Although religion may still be tied heavily to the Republican Party, we’re beginning to see pushback from the Democratic Party and a potential shift in the way that religion operates in the political sphere. 

Blake Ziegler is a senior at Notre Dame studying political science, philosophy and constitutional studies. He enjoys writing about Judaism, the good life, pressing political issues and more. Outside of The Observer, Blake serves as president of the Jewish Club and a teaching assistant for God and the Good Life. He can be reached at @NewsWithZig on Twitter or bziegler@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.