by Nikhil Dewitt (’24) | November 18, 2022
Over the past few weeks, news channels began emphasizing the red wave that would occur on election day. Republicans would take back the House and Senate, and Joe Biden would essentially be a lame-duck president. Shockingly, that red wave never materialized; the Senate has retained a Democratic majority, and while the House may end up flipping, it certainly won’t be by a landslide.
Pundits are questioning how the Democrats fared so well despite an increasingly unpopular president. One potential factor: abortion. The recent decision to overturn fifty years of nationwide access to abortion outraged liberals across the country, especially suburban women. Although issues like crime and inflation had appeared to be leading them away from the Democratic Party since Biden’s inauguration, the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision from a majority conservative Supreme Court seemed to change many women’s minds and push them to vote blue at the polls. Additionally, Republican governors and legislators have been pushing for increasingly anti-abortion policies in many states like Texas. Although abortion has been a controversial issue between Democrats and Republicans for the past few decades, the recent court decision highlighted the issue and brought it to the forefront of many voters’ minds.
Another potential factor in the lack of a red wave is polarization. Many of the Republican candidates up for election this year became known for holding extreme views, with some being election deniers–people who claim Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election fairly. While many candidates, especially those with more democratic-leaning constituencies, disavowed election denialism and far-right politics, other candidates of the same party in different regions continued to campaign with such values, creating an association between extreme policies and the Republican party.
A key case study in the autopsy of the Republican Party is Pennsylvania, where governor-elect Josh Shapiro easily beat a candidate associated with the insurrection, and Democrat John Fetterman defeated Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz despite some personal health issues as the election approached. While many suburban moderates rejected these Republican candidates out of disdain for Donald Trump, a lot of potential Republican voters didn’t even show up to vote. In many rural counties, Fetterman, a fairly progressive Democrat, managed to overperform Biden by over seven points, an astonishing feat. It seems that the culprit here is a lack of enthusiasm from the hard-right voters that propelled Trump to victory in 2016 and nearly again in 2020. Many of the “base” refused to support what they viewed as a moderate Republican, denying critical votes for the Republicans. Finding a balance between courting swing voters and bringing more hardcore voters to the polls remains an issue for Republicans.
Something to note: despite increased stop-the-steal rhetoric over the past couple of years, many Republican candidates who lost races they expected to win have conceded with little fuss. This shows that our democracy is still very alive, and our elections are slowly returning to normal. As we head into the 2024 presidential election, lessons from this year will be on the minds of both Democratic and Republican nominees as they fight over the presidency.