Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 29, 2023


Though voter turnout in midterm elections is typically low, this year, a record 113 million voters cast their ballots, compared to 83 million in 2014.

Two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, a reported record 113 million voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections on Tuesday. Nationally, Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate, while Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. 

Locally, Marylanders elected incumbent Republican Governor Larry Hogan to serve a second term. As the country prepares to change hands, The News-Letter spoke to students and professors about the implications of the election. 

The National Level

Before the 2018 midterms, the Republican Party held the majority of both houses of Congress. Though Republicans have retained the Senate majority with 51 out of the 100 seats, Democrats took the House, with 223 out of 435 seats.

Political Science Professor Robert Lieberman explained that it is normal for the president’s party to lose seats in midterm elections, particularly if the economy is in decline. 

However, he stated that this was not the case during Tuesday’s elections, since many economic indicators, including high economic growth and low unemployment rates, remain positive.

“Every way you measure the health of the economy, for the most part, things look good — except that the president is extremely unpopular,” he said. 

College Democrats Vice President Michael Hammer agreed. He expected the Senate to see a Republican majority because of the polarization in the country.

“People are taking this election to be a referendum on the presidency, and they’re voting similarly to how they voted in 2016,” Hammer said.

College Republicans Vice President Rachel Fortinsky agreed, explaining why she felt Republicans took the Senate while Democrats took the House.

“The point of the Senate is to represent the state,” she said. “The point of a congressman is that he or she represents the people. That is done on a more local level because you’re taking every individual voice into account.”

Devanshu Singh, a member of the non-partisan civic discourse student group, IDEAL, added that this election saw Democrats allying to fight Trump’s influence. He emphasized, however, that the demographics of the Party are changing.

“There’s a strong undercurrent of very progressive, liberal people in the party and that’s going to become more contentious,” Singh said. “The Democratic party is headed for a big split.”

Similarly, Lieberman explained that this election may have increased the level of polarization in the U.S. government.

“The Republicans who lost elections on Tuesday tended to be Republicans who had been elected in slightly Democratic or marginal districts and who were more likely to be disposed toward cooperation with Democrats,” he said. 

Though College Democrats President Lidya Tadesse was disappointed that Democrats did not sweep Congress like she expected, she did notice several milestones, including Muslim and Native American representatives; an openly gay governor; and more women and minorities elected to Congress. 

“A lot of Democrats who may have felt disillusioned by the 2016 elections, young and diverse people, are trying to shape what the party should look like,” she said.

The Maryland Elections

The polls closed on Tuesday night, announcing that Hogan had won the Maryland gubernatorial election with 56.2 percent of the votes, defeating Democratic candidate Ben Jealous.

Political Science Professor Robert Lieberman explained that Hogan secured his victory as a Republican in a Democratic state by enacting largely moderate policies and deviating from Trump’s ideologies.

“Republicans have managed to figure out how to be Republican and get votes in these states in a way that helps them, they are able to connect with voters in these states, but it makes it hard for them to be really strong national Republicans,” Lieberman said.

Singh agreed, adding that though he views Hogan as a good politician, he does not feel that other Republicans in liberal states could subsist in today’s political climate.

“He’s an interesting figure, because there aren’t a whole lot of people who can as a Republican win in a Democratic state,” Singh said. “He’s a dying breed.”

College Republicans Vice President Rachel Fortinsky attributed Hogan’s victory to support for conservative policies, such as those concerning taxes and education.

“People who, in principle, believe in more Democratic ideals are not always willing to stand by those principles when it affects them at a local level,“ she said.

Though Hogan won the state of Maryland, Jealous won 66.7 percent of the votes in Baltimore City, with Hogan only secured only 31.9 percent.

College Democrats Programming and Campaigns Chair Kelvin Qian felt that Hogan’s reduced popularity in Baltimore City was a result of his prioritizing certain groups of Marylanders over others. Qian pointed to Hogan’s decision to cancel the Red Line project in 2015, which would have connected East and West Baltimore. 

“He is clearly deprioritizing public transportation that would have benefited city residents over suburban commuters, which goes back into a long and ugly history of American politicians attacking public transportation,” he said. “It also goes into white flight and racist fears of public transportation bringing undesirables into neighborhoods.”

In the local Baltimore City races, incumbent Democratic Senator Ben Cardin retained his seat with 64.2 percent of the votes. Similarly, incumbent Democrat Elijah Cummings continues to serve as the Baltimore City House Representative.

Lieberman explained that it was unlikely that the relationship between Baltimore and the state government would change significantly following this election, though he did believe that the local Baltimore politicians would become more prominent in D.C.

“Like any big city in a state like this, there is always a little bit of a contentious relationship between the city and the rest of the state,” he said. “Baltimore is a majority black city in a majority white state, which makes it harder.”

Civic and political engagement at Hopkins

College Democrats Vice President Michael Hammer found that student activism peaked immediately after the 2016 presidential election, but noted low turnout at political events this year. 

According to Hammer, Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous frequented other more politically active universities in the area, though he did not visit Hopkins.

“Had we been a bigger club, had we been more active, we would’ve been able to convince Jealous and more of the campaigns to come to Hopkins,” he said.

College Republicans President Kevin Gianaris agreed that students at peer institutions are more politically involved, but added that Hopkins and its Student Government Association (SGA) have taken several measures to increase civic engagement.

“Hopkins doesn’t attract the same political attention that other universities do,” he said. “But they’re taking some good steps within the University, such as the massive grant to the Agora Institute, to increase political engagement, and the SGA Civic Engagement Committee has been good at including a lot of people.” 

IDEAL Secretary of Education Rob Cortes agreed, adding that the University and its student body has been continually working toward getting voting information out to students.

“These initiatives by Hopkins have been really important in getting people to vote,“ he said. “Voting is becoming socially a really positive thing and something cool.”

College Republicans Vice President Rachel Fortinsky said that the organization has felt unwelcome despite being interested in collaborating with groups from across the political spectrum. She cited their willingness to participate in the IDEAL debate between College Republicans and College Democrats as an example.

“There were students upset with College Democrats solely for their willingness to engage in discourse with us,” she said.

Moving forward

University Political Science Professor Robert Lieberman noted that because Congress is now divided, he expect to see more conflict in regard to bills proposed by the Trump administration. He argued that it will much more difficult to pass legislation as members of both parties would need to cooperate.

“Are there areas where both parties can agree on something?” he said. “There was a lot of talk about infrastructure, which is something that tends to be less partisan and ideological than other issues like healthcare, immigration or foreign policy.”

Qian specifically worried about the consequences of Stacey Abrams’ loss in the Georgia gubernatorial election. Had she won she would have been the first black female governor in the U.S.

“I am afraid that people are going to say, ‘Oh, black progressives cannot win, we need to return to the old model of running white moderate centrists,’” he said. “It would be wrong to discourage progressives, women, people of color and any intersections thereof from running.” 

Qian added that as a person of color himself, he was determined to stop Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric since the 2016 presidential elections.

“Not only have his actions towards many immigrants been cruel, but his words have been cruel,“ he said. “The closer we got to election day the crazier his words have become.”

Lieberman was especially disappointed in former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s loss. 

“McCaskill was a very big supporter of strong oversight from the federal government on Title IX, sexual assault issues and harassment on campus,” he said. “That’s a voice that’s no longer going to be there.”

College Democrats President Lidya Tadesse stated that even though the election was over, civic engagement should not end with the election cycle. 

“What’s important now is talking to your representatives, holding them accountable and telling them what issues you’re most passionate about,” she said.

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