The midterm elections in the United States on November 8 defied predictions of a ‘red wave’ with the Democratic Party faring far better than expected. Many experts, especially conservatives, had expected the Republican Party to win both the House of Representatives and the Senate and do well at the State level too. Although votes are still being counted due to the US’s antiquated, non-electronic voting system, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is set to be very slim while the Democrats may even retain control of the Senate.
As of Friday afternoon US time, the Republicans had won 211 seats in the House of Representatives while the Democrats had won 196 with over 30 seats yet to be decided. The majority mark is 218 seats. In the Senate, the Democrats have won 48 seats and the Republicans have won 49. The results of two seats are yet to be declared while a run-off election will be held for a seat in Georgia.
Notably, Democrat John Fetterman won a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, beating celebrity doctor and Trump-endorsed candidate Mehmet Oz and flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat. This is the only Senate seat that has flipped thus far.
The red wave that never was
The Republicans did have some solid wins: in Florida, voters reelected extreme-right Ron DeSantis as governor. DeSantis has become notorious for his anti-LGBTQ, anti-democratic, anti-immigrant and otherwise conservative policies. Texans reelected incumbent Governor Greg Abbott, who promotes similar far-right policies. Surprisingly, the county of Uvalde went to Abbott, despite the fact that the governor not only fumbled the immediate response to the shooting, but he also blocked efforts at enacting gun safety legislation after the fact.
Despite certain notable victories, it has become clear that the “red wave” that conservative pundits predicted would not be the case. Conservative Fox News Host Jesse Waters proclaimed the day before the election, “We are looking at a massive historic red wave coming.” Far-right political commentator Jack Posobiec campaigned for Trump-endorsed candidate for Arizona governor, Kari Lake, speechifying, “They say that every wave starts with a ripple, but I disagree. Because tomorrow the red wave starts with a Lake!” Kari Lake’s Democratic challenger Katie Hobbs is currently leading the election with 82% of votes in.
Republicans ran a slew of Trump-backed election deniers as candidates. These are individuals who have denounced the 2020 election, which Biden won, as being “stolen” due to voter fraud or other conspiratorial reasons. This theory has fomented Trump’s base: polls indicate that the majority of Republicans agree that 2020 was stolen.
JD Vance, author and venture capitalist, also an election denier, won a Senate seat in Ohio, as did representative Ted Budd in North Carolina. Various election-deniers won positions as secretaries of state, the highest office overseeing elections within each state. These include Wes Allen in Alabama, Diego Morales in Indiana, Chuck Gray in North Dakota, and Monae Johnson in South Dakota. Putting election-deniers in positions of secretary of state empowers them to possibly refuse to certify the results of the 2024 presidential election if the results lean Democrat—creating a constitutional crisis.
And yet running election-denying extreme-right candidates as a strategy proved to be less effective than expected. Major election denying Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, who himself was near the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, is losing to Democrat Adrian Fontes. Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated Trump-backed Doug Mastriano, who was also in DC and near the Capitol on January 6, in the race for Pennsylvania governor (Mastriano still has not conceded despite losing by 13 percentage points). Democrat Jocelyn Benson defeated election denying secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo in Michigan. Incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican election-denier Tudor Dixon, also in Michigan.
And yet broadly speaking, Republicans underperformed. How could this be, when Democrats are the party in power during a massive inflation crisis and have done little to nothing to alleviate the economic conditions of the majority of people in the US? Some indicate that it speaks to the unpopularity of the socially-conservative and anti-worker Republican program. To get a better understanding of this theory, it is important to analyze the ballot initiatives, where many issues were put to a direct vote for the first time.
Red state or blue state, left-wing policies are popular
Voters in five states, Kentucky, Michigan, California, Montana and Vermont, voted on five ballot measures dealing with abortion rights. In all five states, the people voted to preserve or enshrine the right to an abortion—even in more conservative states such as Montana and Kentucky.
Conservative or not, abortion rights are popular among the people of the US, with 61% in favor of legalizing abortion. Many other policies, traditionally viewed as left-wing, were met with surprising success in conservative areas. Missouri, a Republican stronghold, voted to legalize marijuana.
Nebraska, also a red state, voted to implement one of the highest minimum wages in the country at $15 by 2026. Nevada also voted on a minimum wage of $12 by 2024. The votes are still being counted, but the results are leaning in favor of the measure. The “Fight for $15” struggle for a living minimum wage began in 2012 and is led by organized labor such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This struggle reached Biden himself on his campaign trail, influencing him to promise to fight for a nationwide $15 minimum wage. He soon abandoned his promise less than 100 days into his presidency after pushback from a Senate bureaucrat. Nebraska’s victory indicates that a nationwide living wage has broad support beyond the halls of Congress.
South Dakota, another red state, voted to expand public healthcare access in the form of Medicaid to 40,000 people, by including those between 18 to 65 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty line. Former slave-holding states Alabama and Tennessee, joined by Vermont and Oregon, voted to completely abolish slavery and therefore leaving existing prison slavery open to legal challenges.
Illinois is set to become the first state in the country to make illegal so-called “right-to-work” laws, or anti-union legislation. In a ballot measure, Illinois residents voted by 58.5% to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right to collective bargaining and organizing.
Not all ballot measure results were progressive. North Dakota, Arkansas, and South Dakota rejected marijuana legalization. Several states chose to impose more restrictions on voting rights. These include Ohio, which now requires US citizenship to vote, and Nebraska and Arizona, which tightened voter identification laws.
However, Nevada, Michigan, and Connecticut voted to expand voting rights and opportunities. Nevada voted to open primaries to any voters regardless of political party and establish ranked choice voting, Michigan voted to require the state to fund absentee drop boxes and create a nine-day period for early voting, and Connecticut voted to allow in-person early voting.
Conservative pundits are now licking their wounds, some frantically digging for evidence of voter fraud, and some blaming Trump for backing a slate of losing candidates. On the left, some are saying that the 2022 midterm results signify that the people of the US are ready for a far more transformational agenda than expected. Commenting on the victory of abortion rights at the ballots, feminist magazine Breaking the Chains tweeted, “When direct decision making power is in the hands of the people, they vote against the far right agenda.”