‘Democracy is on the ballot’: Professors react to midterm election results

Nov. 9, 2022, 12:56 a.m.

So far, the Democrats are performing better than expected in midterms, a surprise to several Stanford professors. Typically, the president’s party loses control of Congress in the midterms, but this election may be different.

As of Wednesday at 12:50 a.m., Senate Democrats (including Independents who typically vote with Democrats) and Republicans are projected to hold 48 and 47 seats, respectively. The House Democrats and Republicans are projected to hold 168 and 198 seats, respectively.

“The returns to this point suggest that the red wave that many people were anticipating is not materializing,” said Larry Diamond, who is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Hakeem Jefferson, an assistant professor of political science, believes that the Democrats are doing better than expected because of voters’ concerns over the Republican Party’s agenda, especially around abortion rights.

“The Republican Party has made it no secret that if they gained control of Congress, that some of them desire to vet anti-choice legislation that would nationalize abortion bans,” Jefferson said. “There has been a great deal of conversation about democracy in this election. And that matters to a lot of voters.”

Diamond speculates that the Democrats’ success is partially due to campaign activity by former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

While Obama significantly contributed to mobilizing Democratic voters, Diamond said that Trump had the opposite effect: “Trump damaged Republican candidates more than he helped them by repelling suburban voters who had defected from him because of his excesses.”

So far, many races have been very close, an indicator of how divided the country is, according to Diamond. In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman won his contested race for the Senate with 50% of the vote. In Nebraska’s Second District, Republican Don Bacon won his race for the House by just over 7,000 votes.

“Some of these races will come down to the wire, and we may see weeks of recounts and legal battles over the results,” said Bruce Cain, political science professor and director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West.

If Republicans gain a majority in the House, Diamond predicted that divisions within Congress will be very challenging for the party to navigate. Referring to Kevin McCarthy, the poised Speaker of the House if the Republican Party gains a majority, “I think that he actually may have more difficulty than Pelosi managing her narrow majority,” Diamond said.

Cain also commented on the divide. “Both parties will continue to contest and fight bitterly for the next two years,” Cain wrote.

Another contested issue in this election season has been voter fraud and election denial, with 51% of Republican nominees running for the House and Senate denying President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 Presidential Election.

Jefferson called voter fraud a “big lie” and “a political project that can’t be disentangled from a racial project that serves the interests of a dwindling white majority with a particular political interest.”

Diamond reiterated risks to the state of the American democracy due to denial of election results. “Many of these people are going to be in positions that could determine the outcome of an election and a state could subvert the outcome of an election,” Diamond said.

He further emphasized the importance of the midterm elections to the country’s democracy.

In many states, “democracy was on the ballot,” Diamond said. “It’s very important to be vigilant about the defense of the democratic process of free and fair elections.”

When asked what students can do, Cain wrote: “Concentrate on what can be done at the state and local level. That’s where anything hopeful will happen. Not in D.C.”

Diamond hopes that students will come away from the election understanding the need to reduce the increasing polarization.

“We all need to try and lower the temperature and reduce the venomous state of political dialogue in the United States,” he said.

Yana Kim is a writer for The Daily. Contact them at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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