A Pre-Post-Mortem of the 2022 Election

2022 Elections
Sschools in Des Moines, IA serve as polling locations in the 2022 election. Photo by Phil Roeder.

By María Isabel Puerta Riera

The 2022 Election

As we entered the final weeks of the 2022 midterm elections, the landscape was promising for Republicans. The expectation of a red wave grew with the help of pundits and pollsters building on the long-running theme of the Democrats in disarray. The sense of dread increased with the anticipation of an absolute bloodbath.

But a few days after the election, with the House still in play, the red wave has disappeared. Republicans lost the Senate, because Democrats flipped Pennsylvania and held both Arizona and Nevada. The Cook Political Report classified all three races as “toss-ups.” So, the narrative across mainstream media turned out wrong once again. Except this time they underestimated the chances for the Democrats to retain the Senate, overestimated the expectations of Republicans, and placed a bit too much emphasis on President Biden’s low approval rating.

Importance of Reproductive Rights

Pundits once again took too much for granted in their pre-election analysis. This time they falsely assumed inflation and gas prices mattered more than reproductive rights. For many critics the question about the relative importance of issues for voters drew more attention than the problems themselves. Meanwhile, pollsters fueled the perception of Democrats as losing touch with the electorate and bread-and-butter issues. The persistent negativity in the narrative left Democratic partisans nearly hopeless as the elections approached. By contrast, Republicans were far more confident in their chances as they exploited the economy in talking points. Meanwhile, a few isolated voices among the Democrats  insisted on the importance of reproductive rights and democracy as winnable issues, but vulnerable candidates in swing states remained cautious.

Nonetheless, some signs indicated voters cared about more than just economic grievances, especially after the Dobbs decision leaked and even more so once Roe v. Wade was officially overturned. One clear sign involved the registration of women to vote in significant numbers. After the stunning results in Kansas, where a referendum was held to keep abortion protections, a Democratic pollster found that 69% of newly registered voters in the state were women. Furthermore, Bonier found that after the Dobbs decision, women outnumbered men in voter registration by 40%.

Still, many overlooked the importance of reproductive rights. Indeed, while some candidates did emphasize the central importance of reproductive rights, media narratives pressured candidates to address economic concerns, especially as some economists warned of an imminent recession. Meanwhile, voters defied expectations, unifying across age, gender, and socio-economic status, to protect reproductive rights.

The Latino Voter 

Alongside many misguided expectations about what voters wanted, pundits also predicted a large shift of Latino voters toward the Republican Party in this year’s election. Indeed, the Democratic Party has expressed concerns about losing support among Hispanic voters particularly in Florida where Trump did surprisingly well in 2020. But the media exaggerated the  narrative yet again. The expectation became an inevitable exodus of Latino voters away from the Democrats. Although most acknowledge Latinos are not a monolithic bloc, we fail to remember this when we prognosticate about elections.  This past election was no different.

For example, Democrats continue to erroneously believe that immigration is a winning issue among all Latinos. Meanwhile, Republicans in Florida found support within Hispanic communities for the decision made by governor DeSantis to send Venezuelan refugees to Martha’s Vineyard. Nonetheless, even if this behavior is welcomed in Texas or Florida, the November 8th results show that Latino voters are yet to be written off from the Democratic Party. According to preliminary data shared by Brookings, the Latino vote broke 2-1 in favor of Democrats in both House and Senate races. Moreover, 68% of Latinas still favored the Democratic Party.

Young Voter Turnout

Similarly, the midterms broke with most expectations for young voter turnout. Traditionally, the midterms are an election where the electorate is predominantly 30+. Voter turnout is low among those between 18 and 29. However, like in the 2018 midterms, young voters in 2022 turned out in massive numbers. Moreover, voters under 30 favored House Democrats by 28 points. This was 2 additional points higher than 2020 and effectively canceled out the conservative advantage among voters over 65. Data shows that 40% of voters between 18-29 voted this year, with 53% voting Democrat. This constituency is not just a core Democratic constituency, but an engaged and involved electorate that jealously defends its interests.

A Stunning Rebuke

And yet the House results are still not final. A preliminary assessment shows that prognosticators were off, not only by the number of seats in play but also by the electorate’s motivations. The economic narrative ignored that reproductive rights are tied to financial hardship. The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will directly impact many vulnerable women, predominantly African Americans and Latinas. Moreover, young men and women understand that this decision will affect their immediate future. And while Republicans kept making the case against elections with their accusations of fraud, Democrats understood the need for participation to protect fundamental rights.This concern resonated with many far more than high gas prices, inflation, fears of recession, or Biden’s approval ratings.

The American people have made their voices heard. They have shown both parties that they want solid policies and a firm commitment to protect democracy and its institutions. Election deniers running for office lost their bid to administrate elections. This is probably the clearest sign that Americans not only support democracy but reject those unwilling to abide by the social contract. The threats against democracy are far from over, but preliminary results point in the right direction.

María Isabel Puerta Riera is a Political Scientist teaching U. S. Government in Florida interested in U. S. and Latin American Politics. 

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