o-midtermrecap

In case you haven’t noticed by the sudden lack of political ads on every local news station and YouTube video, the midterm elections are finally over. 

A few races are still too close to call, but the nationwide picture has become clear. The Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives as expected, but they will not take control of the Senate as many Democrats had feared

Republicans had some success in gubernatorial elections, especially in Florida, where incumbent Ron DeSantis defeated his opponent by a wider margin than Democrat Kathy Hochul of New York and Democrat Gavin Newsom of California won their reelection campaigns. Florida is no longer the purple state it was ten years ago. 

The GOP also did well in Nebraska, where — in addition to winning all federal and statewide positions — the party’s gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen beat his Democrat opponent Carol Blood by a margin of nearly 24%. In 2018, Republican incumbent Pete Ricketts won his reelection campaign by a margin of 18%.

However, the Democrats were the bigger winners of election day, outperforming expectations and leaving many Republicans wondering what happened to the supposed “red wave” — and in some cases, “red tsunami” — predicted by many right-wing media figures. 

Considering President Biden’s low approval rating and the historical precedent of midterm elections, it was reasonable to assume that Democrats would hemorrhage seats in both houses of Congress. 

Going into the 2010 midterms, President Obama had a slightly higher approval rating than Biden, and Democrats lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate. In 2022, it appears that the Democrats will only lose seven seats at most in the House with a possibility of gaining a seat in the Senate

To quote Nancy Pelosi, the red wave became a “little, tiny trickle, if that at all.” 

The power of 27%

Pre-election predictions are often incorrect — the classic example being the 2016 presidential election — and in many cases, these polling inaccuracies reflect a certain demographic of voters whose turnout is underestimated. 

In 2022, it seems that younger voters were vastly underrepresented in much of the analysis of the midterms leading up to election day. This may be due to our generation’s apprehension toward answering phone calls — especially those from unknown numbers — but the more likely explanation is an underestimation of Gen Z voter turnout. 

Early estimates show around 27% of voters under 30 cast a ballot in the 2022 midterms. This percentage may not seem particularly high, but it represents the second highest midterm turnout over the last 30 years. 

In 2014, fewer than 20% of Americans under 30 and only 13% of college students aged 18-24 voted in the midterm elections. 

In most places, 2022 midterm turnout was slightly lower than in 2018, but both years were uncommonly high compared to the rest of the last 30 years.

The 2018 midterms were the first federal election to occur after Trump’s surprising win in 2016, and his polarizing character likely motivated voters on both sides in 2018. With Trump no longer in the White House, it would be reasonable to assume more typical midterm turnout. 

Of course, the polls failed to consider the impact of my article from three weeks ago encouraging people to vote, but I will grant that other factors may have been at play, including a certain Supreme Court decision from June. 

Roe, Roe, Roe your vote

Throughout most of the last two decades, the number of Americans who considered themselves pro-choice or pro-life remained relatively even. With some exceptions, Republicans and Democrats each had a clear side on the issue, and it seemed even enough that neither party paid a political price for an unpopular stand.

However, the overturning of Roe v. Wade coincided with a spike in the number of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice. I hesitate to conflate correlation with causation, but I do not find it a difficult assumption to make. 

This shift in public polling soon became evident at the ballot box. Kansas’ proposed state constitutional amendment to remove the right to an abortion was soundly defeated by an 18% margin in the August 2022 primary, despite having a four percent lead in the polls heading up to election day. 

Several other constitutional amendments were on the ballot in states across the country in November, and in each state the side which would enable more abortion access won.

While these amendments may have motivated more liberals to vote in those states, candidates with the ability to enshrine the right to an abortion into federal law were on the ballot nearly everywhere. Abortion rights — which once seemed to be an evenly split issue — have suddenly become the key to election victory for Democrats. 

Polling shows that Gen Z is the most pro-choice generation, and the increase in turnout among young people certainly favors one party over the other. 

On the other hand, an anti-abortion stance is now a liability for Republican candidates.

This is not to say that candidates should compromise on their own moral values to pander to a larger voting pool, but it is a development worth noting in the political arena. 

It remains to be seen if the pro-choice tilt will continue beyond 2022 or if this year’s polling is merely an outlier due to the recency of the Dobbs decision. 

In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement received record support, but its favorability declined significantly the following year. 

One thing is for sure — Gen Z will continue to make up a larger part of the electorate as time goes on, but that does not necessarily mean that Democrats have a secure path for future election victories, as generational beliefs consist of more than a right or left-wing ideology. 

Additionally, liberals are more likely to become conservative as they age than conservatives are of becoming liberal, though the phenomenon is not as widespread as some Republican strategists may hope.

I hesitate to make any predictions on the long-term impact of young voters and abortion rights, but it does seem as though they turned the red wave into a red trickle in 2022. 

If you ignore the recent announcements made by a certain Florida retiree and Kim Kardashian’s ex, it’s now time to sit back and enjoy a few months of election off-season before the horse race comes into full swing once again.

Brian Beach is a senior journalism major. Reach him at brianbeach@dailynebraskan.com.