Eyes glued to various screens for hours; sky-high stress levels; little sleep.
While the scene is familiar — visit any University library amid exams — the cause of anxiety last Tuesday night was something else. Midterm election results were slowly trickling in, and voters watched as the shape of the government for the next several years took form before their eyes.
To many, the midterm results were a shock in light of expectations of a red wave for Republican candidates. This year’s results were relatively unusual, given that the incumbent party usually performs poorly in the midterms: Not only did Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate they also lost far fewer seats in the House of Representatives than many political experts had predicted. As of press time, the Republican Party was on the cusp of winning the required 218 seats in the House for control of the chamber.
The election results were a surprise to many students — they allowed a sigh of relief for some, and represented a dismaying disappointment to others.
An emotional rollercoaster
For Carter Moyer ’24, election results elicited a host of emotions, but chief among them were “relief and surprise” at the Democrats’ performance relative to the poor night that had been predicted for the party.
“With the Dobbs decision (which overturned Roe v. Wade), with a lot of threats to Social Security (and) Medicare and just the need to continue to invest in climate, the fact that the Senate is still” held by the Democrats “is huge,” Moyer said.
Jay Philbrick ’24.5 echoed similar sentiments, saying he felt “happy and surprised” at the election results.
“There was a lot of doom and gloom in the press. There were a huge amount of predictions about a red wave,” Philbrick said. “Come election night and a couple days after, I think it was a huge success.”
Julian Coss y Leon Cronin ’25, treasurer of the Brown College Democrats, said the midterms’ results brought joy and relief.
“I’ve been very concerned about the direction our country was going in politically, and I thought that Tuesday demonstrated that Americans reject radical extremism and uphold democracy, and that the economic winds of the current day will not push Americans into the hands of extremism,” Cronin said.
Philbrick said that Democrats winning the Senate — news that broke several days after Tuesday’s midterms — was a “huge accomplishment” for the party.
“We’ll be able to confirm more judges (and) do any cabinet reshuffles, … (which) will really be huge for the administration and for the country,” Philbrick said.
The red wave that never was
Jack Wolfsohn ’23, president of the Brown College Republicans, blamed former President Donald Trump for the Republican Party’s failure to meet expectations on election night.
“Overall, it was a terrible night for Republicans — it was a disaster,” Wolfsohn said. “I think the blame can simply be put on Trump for that. Trump handpicked these very bad candidates for governor and for Senate — and even the House as well.”
Wolfsohn said that some of these hand-picked candidates “came across as crazy,” citing the “ridiculous” fact that many of them denied the validity of the 2020 presidential election results.
“They seem to be Trump’s lap dogs, and to be doing whatever (Trump) told them to do … rather than focusing on what voters in their districts or in their states wanted them to do,” he added.
Moyer argued that defining the night as a win for the Democrats is hardly partisan: Some members of the GOP are labeling the midterms a disaster for Republicans.
“If you hear the rhetoric coming out of the mouths of right-wing media, they deem it a total loss,” Moyer said. “The Republicans really thought they were going to win big, and that was also their messaging. When your messaging is like that, when the historical trends are like that and it doesn’t play out, that’s showing that there’s something really seismic happening in the country.”
Wolfsohn said that even the Republicans’ probable control of the House isn’t entirely positive considering the slim majority they’re likely to gain
“With the fact that the Senate (has gone) to the Democrats, Republicans can’t stop Biden’s judicial nominees; but at least if they control the House, they can hamstring Biden’s legislative agenda, which is in my opinion good,” Wolfsohn said. “But the majority was supposed to be far more.”
While experts have examined several potential reasons for the improbable success of Democrats on election night, Philbrick highlighted reproductive rights as an issue that turned the tide of the midterms.
Moyer argued that a surge in women who registered to vote, as well as defeats of anti-abortion ballot measures in conservative-leaning states such as Kentucky, showed that reproductive rights animated voters in the midterms.
Wolfsohn also pointed to reproductive rights as a major area that led Republicans to lose ground in the midterms. He said that while polls suggested that abortion wouldn’t be a deciding factor in the elections, exit polls showed that the impact of abortion was far greater than anticipated.
Is the American electorate taking a stand against extremism?
Tuesday night was about more than any individual candidate or race, according to Wolfsohn. It was a sign of changing tides in the American electorate: a turn away from political extremism and Trump, he said.
“The American electorate really wants not extreme candidates,” Wolfsohn said. “They want … people who believe in conservative policy ideas and are not necessarily completely loyal to Trump.”
Wolfsohn said a turn towards political moderation makes the perfect case for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to be the future of the GOP.
“Ron DeSantis won by 1.5 million votes, Florida went completely red and it just shows that Ron DeSantis is an actual leader who gets things done,” Wolfsohn said. “He doesn’t have all the baggage that Trump has and he’s a lot more likable to voters.”
Moyer said the election results also represent a shift in voting power to younger demographics.
Moyer pointed to how the 18- to 29-year-old age group gave Democrats a boost. “That should really tell Democrats where this country is moving and where power is,” he said.
In light of that trend, Moyer said Democrats will have to ensure they’re targeting the issues young voters care about: “abortion, young people and the economy.”
Philbrick predicted that the GOP will have to “do a lot of soul-searching” in light of the midterm results.
“Take the hint, stop trying to challenge the election, stop trying to relitigate things, start believing in democracy and start believing in fighting for working people,” Philbrick said. “I think it’d be a good thing for the country if Republicans reflect more on this election and realize why they lost when … they should have had an easy election, and they really shot themselves in the foot.”