Republicans disappointed at middling midterms
The country went to the ballot box on Tuesday to elect 435 Congressmen, 34 Senators, and numerous state and local officials. While many expected the Republican Party to pick up dozens of seats in the House of Representatives and perhaps a few in the Senate, the results were far more modest.
One of the closely watched races was the Pennsylvania Senate contest between Democratic candidate John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the former celebrity doctor of daytime TV fame and Republican nominee. They campaigned for the seat left vacant by retiring Republican Pat Toomey. Although the race was always tight, Oz pulled ahead in the polls immediately before the election but wound up losing by four points on election day.
Another notable race was the one for the Georgia Senate seat. Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock won the seat in a special election in 2020 after Republican Johnny Isakson resigned. This year, he faced GOP nominee Herschel Walker, a legendary football player who played at the University of Georgia in the 1980s. The race is still undecided, as neither candidate reached 50% of the vote after in the first round of voting, so there will be a runoff between just Walker and Warnock in December.
If the current projections hold, prior to the runoff in Georgia, Democrats will control 50 of the 100 seats in the Senate, with Republicans holding 49 and the Georgia runoff determining the final seat. Because Vice President Harris can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, a 50-50 split will give Democrats the advantage in the Senate. Thus, while control of the chamber is already decided, for the second election in a row, the balance of power in the Senate will be influenced by a Georgia runoff election.
Both major parties had reason to believe that the midterms might go in their favor relative to the usual midterm trend against the President’s party. Republicans had hoped that President Biden’s low approval rate (just 40% according to CNN) and historically high inflation (over 7% from October 2021–October 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) would help drive turnout among those who were dissatisfied with Democrats. On the other hand, Democrats hoped that Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health’s overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer, whichallowed states to craft their own abortion laws, would drive turnout among pro-choice Americans, who typically vote Democrat.
The Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study held a panel discussion analyzing these results. Political science Professors Ricardo Ramírez and Christina Wolbrecht were joined by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and NDIAS Practitioner in Residence Carlos Lozada, with Professor David Campbell moderating. All four generally agreed that most commentators had expected a “red wave”, while each panelist gave slightly different reasons for why no wave appeared.
Prof. Ramírez argued that to the extent that there was a wave, it took place in Florida. Governor Ron Desantis won the 2018 gubernatorial election by just 0.4%, but was reelected on Tuesday by a margin of 19.4%. Additionally, Republicans flipped 4 previously Democratic congressional districts.
Carlos Lozada speculated that, even if abortion was not a direct cause of Democratic turnout, it likely might have helped the democrats in another way: “I think it’s probably less ambiguous that it did animate party activists and fundraising machinery that then could have secondary effects on potentially boosting turnout. But again, in the absence of harder data, that’s one mechanism that I could envision for Dobbs to stimulate turnout.” This possible effect could explain why the foretold red wave never arrived.
Prof. Wolbrecht also thought the data on abortion voting was interesting. She commented on the fact that in each of the five states which held referendums on abortion access, the pro-choice side did better than the Democrats: “We have known for a while that Democratic policies are more popular than the Democrats are. And that’s a problem for Democrats.” Prof. Wolbrecht also speculated that perhaps “waves” are simply less likely. According to an NBC exit poll, 96% of registered Democrats voted Democrat, and 96% of registered Republicans voted Republican. If there is less cross-party voting, that would suggest less volatility in election outcomes.
All four of the panelists thought that one could draw interesting conclusions about the upcoming 2024 Presidential election. President Biden has done better than average for a first midterm. This might reduce the number of Democrats calling for him to not run again in 2024. On the GOP side, those candidates whom President Trump picked tended to perform similar to how Trump did in 2020 in their state. Given that Trump lost in 2020, a number of his high-profile picks lost as well. Pointing out that Trump’s influence over the party might be waning, Carlos Lozada pointed out, “J.D. Vance [a prominent Trump endorsee] thanked a million people by name in his [victory] speech. He did not thank Trump.”
To confound matters even more, while results are still coming in, Republicans will likely close +7% in the national popular vote for the House of Representatives, even as their hopes for a large gain in seats failed to materialize.
As each party seeks to look forward to 2024, there certainly are a variety of complex results to analyze from this surprising election.
Will Grannis is a sophomore honors mathematics and theology major. When he’s not doing math homework or having heated debates with his friends, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Notre Dame Department of Political Science