On Nov. 8, the U.S. held its midterm elections, the first cycle since President Joe Biden’s win in 2020. Although the results from several House and Senate races are yet to be determined, we now have a much clearer picture of the political landscape and what matters to voters.
Firstly, the losses of 2020 election deniers are reason to rejoice. Notably, gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon in Michigan, both of whom have denied the results of the 2020 election, lost their respective races in their swing states, indicating that many voters in these states appear unwilling to support leaders who have undermined our democracy.
Democrat Josh Shapiro, Mastriano’s main opponent in the race for Pennsylvania governor, won with a percentage of 56.3%. In 2020, Joe Biden won in Pennsylvania with only 50%, highlighting that election deniers among Republican candidates may have bolstered Democrats’ success.
Another aspect of the midterms that is important to highlight is ticket-splitting, which occurs when voters support both Democrat and Republican candidates. This phenomenon occurred across the country and is tightly connected to candidate quality.
For example, in Georgia, Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker was seen as a weak candidate. In the analysis of the ballots, he received over 200,000 fewer votes than incumbent Republican governor Brian Kemp, who is generally viewed as a stronger candidate and more moderate through his defense of election integrity.
This suggests that some Republicans are willing to cross the aisle and vote for Democrats to avoid weak candidates or election deniers, which is reassuring and an act contrary to the partisan polarization we associate with today’s politics.
It should be noted that election night was an outstanding success for the Democrats in the Senate, who flipped a seat in Pennsylvania and maintained their hold in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia (though pending the results of the Georgia runoff in December, this very well may change).
However, the midterms cannot be seen as a runaway victory for the Democrats and a sign they should not alter their messaging.
In the New York's 17th Congressional District, longtime congressman and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Head Sean Maloney was unseated by the Republican candidate, Mike Lawler, a former state assemblyman.
“I think moving in a different direction as we move forward is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Lawler said, referring to former President Donald Trump’s current hold over the Republican party.
If the party is able to separate itself from the radical image of Trump and run high-quality candidates, it is likely they will be able to win the support of many moderates who are concerned about economic issues, like inflation, in what could be an electoral challenge for Democrats.
Further, in the primaries, Democratic interest groups supported far-right Republican candidates and ran attack ads against moderate Republicans, who were viewed as more difficult to beat in the general elections.
It is important to contextualize Democratic successes in states like Pennsylvania by keeping in mind that the extreme views of the Republican candidates were impactful. Had Republicans chosen more moderate candidates, it is unlikely Democratic success would have been as prominent in specific races.
Although this strategy may have paid off for Democrats in 2022, I caution against repeating this strategy in the future. Amplifying extreme candidates is always very dangerous, considering that if election-denier Doug Mastriano had won the Pennsylvania governor, he would have the power to appoint the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, who oversees elections.
Further, the Democratic party should focus money into local organizing efforts that have the potential to make states more competitive for Democrats in the long term, similar to Stacey Abrams’ organizing in Georgia in 2020.
Ultimately, the Democratic party exceeded people’s expectations in the midterms, while the GOP struggled to flip key states like Pennsylvania and was haunted by their own poor quality, anti-democracy candidates.
However, Democrats cannot take this as a sign that they have perfected their messaging and must recognize that strong, moderate Republican candidates like Lawler or Kemp are successful against Democrats.
Further, although House races have not been called, it is likely that the Republicans will edge out a small House majority, stalling much of the Democrats and Biden’s agenda, including any attempts to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law.
Samhi Boppana is a sophomore from Dublin, Ohio majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Political Science.