Midterm Elections: The red wave that became a ripple


Brooke Murphy and Lindsey Leitner

The 2022 midterms defied history, shattering expectations of a “red wave.”

In the realm of politics, two words had been repeated since 2020, echoing in conservative news and predicted by political scientists: the “red wave” was, for many, determined. A Republican takeover of Congress was going to prevent Democratic initiatives throughout the rest of President Joe Biden’s term. 

But Republicans went silent on Tuesday, Nov. 8, as ballots were counted and the promise slipped through their hands. Democrats held the Senate, and Republicans obtained only a narrow majority in the House.  

It’s important to note the historical precedence: Midterm elections have been a pushback against the the president in power’s party. In 1994, Republicans captured a 230-204 majority in the House and a 52-48 majority in the Senate, flipping both houses while Bill Clinton was president. In 2006, Democrats seized the House and Senate while George W. Bush was in office. Although the Republican party captured the U.S. House this election, it was a slimmer majority than expected. The undermining of expectations, caused by an increase in voter turnout and the abandonment of some Republicans, determines more than the federal office holders and the political affiliation of voters. It is a looking glass into how the last few years have impacted Americans. 

The polls don’t particularly indicate high spirits regarding Biden’s work in office. In fact, according to NPR polling conducted Nov. 16-19, Biden’s approval rating was at only 42 percent. Commentators have pointed to abortion rights and false statements about the outcome of the 2020 election as the driving force that sustained Democrats’ Senate control and only a slight Republican hold of the house.  

Suburban women have, in the past few years, been a voting bloc that determined the results of critical elections in swing states. These areas are known to consist of Republican women; however, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and struck down federal protection of reproductive rights, abortion became a leading political issue predicted to impact voting, but political pundits and commentators seemed to underestimate how severe the pushback would be. It appears that suburban and low-income women were driven to polls with this issue in mind, and results show its significance in minimizing the red wave. Overall, six in 10 voters felt negatively about the Supreme Court decision and 43 percent of Democrat voters cite abortion as their biggest concern, according to CNN exit polls. 

This helped Democrats win on midterm ballots in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan. Abortion was directly on the ballot in five states, and in every instance, the people voted to protect reproductive rights. Republicans had benefitted from abortion being on the minds of voters in the past. Influenced by distaste with Roe v. Wade, and their urgency in getting it overturned, Evangelicals and conservatives were pushed to the polls. But this year, this completely shifted. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and trigger laws across the country brought concerns over women’s rights to the forefront for Democrats. Abortion was more heavily invested in Democratic campaigns than any other topic, according to a Nov. 10 Times article. They spent nearly $500 million on these, eight times as much as Republicans. 

The other topic that determined the results of these elections was the struggle that far-right Republicans had getting elected. Most Republican candidates who based their platforms on their allegiance to Donald Trump and their belief in the false narrative that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump failed across the board.

For the first time in decades, Republicans are left without any legislative power in Michigan. According to a Nov. 16 New York Times article, Republican Senate candidates in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania received votes by their own party seven percentage points less than the national average. Those points were received by the Democratic Senate candidate, showing that Republican vote was swayed against these candidates enough to get them to vote against their party affiliation. There were very similar results in Arizona and Nevada. In each of these states, candidates had ties to Trump. After the events of the Jan. 6, 2020, violent protest in the Capitol, fear of threats to democracy may have swayed voters.  

In many winnable swing states, Republican candidates with close relations to Trump had lost their elections. Those without relations did not seem to struggle. It has not yet been determined with certainty whether these results show that voters are fearful of threats to democracy, growing distaste toward MAGA Republicans or a shift towards more moderate republicanism. But what is certain, is that Trump-backed Republican election deniers lost significantly, some in areas that were Republican strongholds.  

The 2022 midterm election results have defied history and predictions. It exposes to the world and politicians the importance of abortion and a shift away from far-right Republicanism.