The big news about the 2022 midterm election is that the news is not as big as expected. Or, at least, not as earthshaking as prematurely claimed by the Republican Party, feared by their Democratic counterparts, and predicted by the punditry.
Any reflection on the meaning of an election must start with a couple often-ignored caveats. For one, the U.S. has lousy voter turnout, though it’s been growing recently. Turnout this time seems to have been relatively large (with ballots still being counted as of this writing).
And no wonder: a lot was at stake!
With the much-ballyhooed Republican “red wave” sputtering into a pink puddle, sighs of relief went up around the country – and internationally, as well. What happens here affects people around the world. So it came as very good news that the majority of U.S. voters refused to give control over their lives to reality-deniers and opponents of abortion.
Republican fingers were pointing all over the place as candidates handpicked by Trump bombed in high-profile races for Congress, secretary of state, and governor. To avoid voting for a MAGA conspiracy theorist, an unusual number of people split their tickets between Democrats and Republicans. Still, the New York Times estimates that over 200 candidates who deny or cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election won their races.
The Democrats managed to keep their narrow hold on the Senate, with a runoff election yet to come in Georgia. At this moment, the House of Representatives is still up for grabs, with Republicans in the lead. Before the election, chest-thumping Republican leaders boasted about winning a majority of 20 seats or more. What seems likely now is a single-digit majority.
Pollsters and the mainstream media play a nefarious role in elections. Polls focus on which question voters say matters most to them and news jockeys faithfully parrot their findings. But voters can pick “inflation” as their number one concern, and still care passionately about abortion, climate breakdown, police violence, and voting rights! All these topics are in-your-face, everyday issues for working-class and poor people.
One thing is certain: the chattering classes wildly underestimated the effect of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Apparently they didn’t think that voter attention spans would last from June to November on this shattering issue!
Reproductive justice got a thumbs up in at least five states. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont enshrined the right to abortion in their state constitutions. In Kentucky and Montana, they defeated measures against the freedom to choose.
Voter registration among youth and women shot up after the Dobbs ruling came out. The turnout by young people for these midterms is the second highest of the last 30 years. The youth vote skews heavily Democratic. It’s likely that their ballots more than those of any other specific demographic are responsible for fending off the “red wave.”
So was this a victory for democracy? Not exactly. The two capitalist parties still have a chokehold on the electoral system, the electoral college can still overrule the populace, many U.S. residents are denied the vote by law or in practice, etc., etc.
But let’s look at the midterms as a win for popular democratic spirit. When faced with far-rightists overtly hostile to majority rule and willing to use lies and violence to subvert it, egged on by their cult leader Trump, enough people said hell no to make a difference.
What’s the takeaway? Are voters going to accept just doing this thing all over again in two years — after fighting hour after hour to beat back the right wing, save every scrap of reform that remains, and survive the recession that’s clearly coming? The bottom line is that this electoral system, and the social and economic system it maintains, has got to go. And the sooner the better, for all of us.