Election Takeaways and a Look at What’s Next

JWU students heard election analysis firsthand from esteemed experts during Media & Politics Café’s “Election 2022: Making Sense of the State of American Politics with an Eye toward the Future.” Moderated by Meena Bose, Ph.D., this virtual event featured Bernard Brennan, Ph.D.; Matt Grossmann, Ph.D.; Wendy Schiller, Ph.D.; and Tim White.

Election 2022 Panelists

The Media & Politics Café is a biannual series in which students from all disciplines hear directly from people affected by and impacting a range of complex topics that encompass politics and the media in their constitution. This hallmark JWU event was developed by Associate Professor Kevin DeJesus, Ph.D., who also coordinates the series each semester with support from Associate Dean Rory Senerchia, Ph.D., of the John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences, and Director of Campus Events, Lisa Carlson.

Here are the panel’s five takeaways:

1. The Red Wave Wasn’t Even a Ripple

Grossmann declares 2022 as largely a missed opportunity for the Republican party, since the party opposing the president historically gains seats during the midterms. Although the Republicans did gain seats in the House of Representatives, it was “less than usual,” he says, “and in all the wrong places — in districts that were already largely represented by Republicans. They lost swing areas and governorships that were nearly unprecedented.” Noting that candidates who Trump endorsed performed poorly, he theorizes that voters reacted to policy changes such as the Republicans overturning Roe v. Wade — a “bigger backlash than anything Biden and Democrats accomplished.”

This backlash, however, wasn’t due to female voters, who instead presented conflicting messaging. Schiller states that 54% of married woman with children voted Democrat when in previous years they’ve leaned Republican. More young people voted this year, with a slight increase of women in their thirties and forties. But seniors voted en masse for Republicans. Geography and age appear to be greater factors in how people voted than gender alone.

Did voters’ views on the state of democracy impact their vote? “It’s a bit early to answer that question,” Brennan replies, "but my intuition says it peeled off some percentage of Republican voters. Even if it only peeled off 5%, it was enough to make the difference.”

2. News Consumption Has Changed

White spoke about reporting challenges that were not prevalent in previous campaigns, specifically candidate criticisms and the contraction of the media landscape. "It’s simple math," he begins. "There are fewer reporters to cover the news, so things go uncovered, particularly in down ballot elections — school committees and town councils. People are consuming news to reinforce their belief rather than challenge it. Cable news has done irreputable damage because they have blurred the lines between analysis and news.”

To counter these offenses and to address a civics coverage vacuum apparent from the 2020 election, CBS featured a Democracy Desk which explained the voting process and how votes are counted for the 2022 midterms. White notes that such a thing was an afterthought 10 or 20 years ago.

"If we’ve learned anything from the past six-to-eight years, it’s that information matters, truth matters, reliable media matters," he says. "It's incumbent on us to teach media literacy. It’s abhorrent to me the amount of misinformation that is masked as community journalism. It’s very dangerous." He cites the fundamental problem as fewer journalists from reliable news outlets. "People who run these companies must figure out a financial model that upholds newsrooms. There are news deserts in parts of this country and that is frightening because sunlight is the best disinfectant."

To achieve this transparency with his own news coverage, White feels that primaries deserve greater scrutiny — because low turnout of a state’s dominant political party can often determine the general election winner.

I do not think that campaigns and campaign managers have wrapped their arms around how voting has changed in the past two years and how they have to adjust their campaigns to account for that.

3. Early Voting and Mail Ballots Have Transformed Races

With early voting and mail ballots gaining popularity and counted last, races have become more difficult to call. Viewers see that 100% of precincts are reporting, but that percentage does not include these ballots — which leads to misinformation when the Republicans win election day voting but lose overall.

White admits early voting represents a challenge for journalists and election coverage. To accommodate this subset, one option is schedule debates earlier. However, with Rhode Island’s primary in early September, debates would have to occur in July and August when viewership is lowest. The issue is that tens of thousands of voters already voting before debates could change their minds by election day. White cites as an example Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes winning the most votes on election day but losing to incumbent Dan McKee overall due to early voting.

"I do not think that campaigns and campaign managers have wrapped their arms around how voting has changed in the past two years and how they have to adjust their campaigns to account for that," he states.

4. Trump Endorsements Fell Flat

Grossmann believes that constituents are learning from media to make distinctions against more extreme candidates in favor of more experienced ones. These voters pushed back against election deniers and aroused Democratic donors, who outspent Republican donors 15 to 1. Even extreme candidates that were not election deniers seemed to face a penalty based on their view.

"Trump has hurt Republicans," Grossmann says. "They did better in places where he wasn’t involved in 2018 and 2020. They have not accepted it yet, but the more that he's involved, the more it's going to hurt them — and it's very likely to happen again."

But don’t count Trump out yet; midterm results have no effect on presidential elections. Says Grossmann, "No one is going to glide to the nomination in the face of Trump. He’s going to remain active and not take opposition lightly as we are already seeing."

One way he can do this is through talk radio and conservative media, which have strongly influenced listeners’ positions and Republican party politics for the last three decades. When these media outlets have tried to turn on Trump, audiences have demanded allegiance and even turned to more right-wing alternatives.

White laments that these commentators are not subject to the FCC standards that he is. "Should we be regulating these other outlets?" he asks. "My answer is maybe. There has to be some real accountability."

If we've learned anything from the past six-to-eight years, it's that information matters, truth matters, reliable media matters.

5. All Politics is Local

Ultimately constituents are concerned most about issues that affect their personal lives and home communities, and they vote accordingly. The Republican party excels at amplifying contentious local issues and convincing their base to act, says Schiller. Grossmann cites school choice and COVID matters as examples. Played differently in different races. Although Republicans won local school board elections in Florida, they lost competitive school board issues throughout Michigan. One exception was Dearborn where Muslim parents wanted to remove certain books from schools.

Even a solidly blue state like Rhode Island is not immune to book banning debate. White says he's received an uptick in calls that favor book banning — a tactic to nationalize school boards. "Education issues drive people to the polls," he notes, citing the outsized turnout in Warwick where a school bond was on the ballot. Although education generates energy for a certain voter base, the flip side is the chilling impact it has on people who would normally run for school board positions. White adds, "School committee meetings have turned toxic. Fewer and fewer people want to deal with that. They are trying to negotiate a contract for milk, but other things generate so much noise that distracts from their mission and why they ran in the first place."


Since the House of Representatives controls revenue raising and spending, its purpose is to keep government funded — which means raising the debt ceiling. Presidents Clinton and Obama both dealt with a Republican House shutting down government, but Schiller notes "that’s not going to fly this time." She says that if the Senate stabilizes and the Democrats pass legislation, they won’t need to eliminate the filibuster.

Brennan believes the likelihood of political violence is high, but that a centrally planned or orchestrated event like January 6 is less likely. Between the growing animosity, polarization, and access to weaponry, an attack like the one on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband at their home could occur. With the House’s razor-thin margin of Republicans to Democrats, Brennan thinks we may see representatives switching parties to gain political power.

Finally, Schiller predicts that Nevada, Arizona and Georgia will appear again as battleground states on the electoral map. She adds that Florida, a one-time swing state, is now and will continue to be solidly red.

Whether red, blue or purple, time will tell what colors 2024 will bring to the electoral map.

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