About Rachel’s Fullbright Blog Series; Rachel Simon-Kumar was awarded the NZ Fulbright Scholar Award for 2022 and will be at Georgetown University, Washington D.C, between October 2022 and February 2023. During this time, she will be hosted at the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, working with Prof. Nadia Brown. She will exploring comparative perspectives on intersectionality among Ethnic Minority Women in Politics in New Zealand and the United States. Her occasional blogs will reflect on gender, race and politics during her Fulbright journey.

The run-off for the Georgia Senate seat last week completed the mid-term elections that started on November 6th. I’ve been meaning to reflect on the elections especially as it was one of the drawcards that brought me on this Fulbright at this time of the year to Washington DC.

There’s much that’s been said about the recent mid-terms – about the red wave that turned into a trickle; the surprise at pundits’ predictions that failed, Trumpism flailing, and calls for the GOP to reconstitute itself without Trump. There’s also the understated victories for diversity: record number elected officials who are women, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQI, historic gains by Muslim Americans, Gretchen Witmer back in Michigan after awful attacks against her during the Covid response, among others.

I am not going to re-hash these commentaries. Instead, my observations are an attempt to appreciate democratic and voting behaviour as more than partisan politics.

So here are my two cents worth.

1. Issues matter (and abortion was an issue that mattered): For those who expected that voting would be strictly along party lines, the focus on issues was overlooked. But it did matter. Just before the election, the Pew Centre released the key issues that mattered to voters: economy, inflation, guns, democracy, etc. In reality, there was more nuance in what constituted key issues. On the Pew List, abortion came in 9th on the list. But edging out all this, abortion ended up being a mobilizing factor for women that even cut across partisan lines. On election night, a CNN poll came back with some stunning results; although 31% said inflation was their top issue, abortion came at a close second at 27%.See also this link https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-abortion-rights-swayed-results-in-the-midterm-election.

2. Women matter as voters: Although politics is often enacted as if women didn’t exist, in reality, they are the key voters that influence election outcomes. The Dobbs v. Jackson verdict that overturned Roe v. Wade mobilized women voters and spiked registrations as well drew them out into early voting. It is no exaggeration to say that women turned the tide of the mid-terms.

3. Gen-Z votes made a difference: Partisan politics was turned on its head by young voters who came out in record numbers to vote in the mid-terms and held back the red wave. Gen-Z voters have grown up in a world of gun violence and the threat of annihilation by climate change. For them, the issues that matter to them resonate with social justice and rights agendas. They are, and will continue to be, a reckoning force in future elections.

4. Local issues matter: I had a chat with a colleague at Georgetown University on the eve of elections and was rather surprised by his adamant claim that he (and people he knew) would not vote for a candidate based on the party affiliation. What they were looking for in a candidate was someone who had a track record of delivering for people in local communities, and someone who was from the community they represented. The Pennsylvania battleground was one that was framed as Fetterman, the insider v. Dr. Oz, the outsider. Although Dr. Oz was personally endorsed by Trump, it was the local Fetterman that appealed to voters.

5. Candidates matter: In this election, there were references to ‘unelectable candidates’. Big money and big endorsements did not make up for candidates who peddled in extreme views. Voting behaviour and results showed a preference for capability and commitment, over all else. The voting public are showing an intolerance for divisive politics.

6. Class matters: Class emerged as another battleground. The working-class as a political voting group has tended to be broadly categorized as the ‘non-college educated voters’ and generally lumped in with ‘red neck’ politics. But looking at the current rapid rise of unionization among workers and strikes across many industries, the working class is emerging as a new force and body politic for socio-economic change. This links is to a union website on the rising prominence of union politics in the US. https://aflcio.org/justgettingstarted.

In fact, class politics also trumped (no pun intended) identity politics in some communities. There is no Latina vote or Asian-American vote – rather their economic circumstances define their vote. The Latina vote in Florida is distinct from the Latina vote in Texas. Nuanced analysis of communities needs to be appreciated over blunt race and gender breakdowns.

This WSJ op-ed a few days before election was illuminating.

Amidst all this rejoicing, there is also sadness – Stacey Abrams lost her second bid for Governorship in Georgia. There are still pending cases and suits by disgruntled candidates to resolve.

But above it all, the citizen … ‘we, the people …’ spoke. They surprised pollsters and they defied the fait accompli that democracy is run by star names, party loyalties, and the pressure of moneyed interests. The mid-terms were a much-needed triumph for democracy.