The ‘No Wave’ Election – and What It May Portend, Carroll Doherty, Director, Political Research, Pew Research Center
Under normal political circumstances, midterm elections are not kind to the party in power. With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, low approval ratings for President Biden, and concerns about rising inflation, conventional wisdom pointed to a strong showing for Republicans.
But these are not normal times. The Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn Roe v. Wade, plus concerns about threats to democracy, seemed to change the calculus for enough voters. Instead of a referendum on the party in power, for many people, the election became a referendum on abortion, election denialism, and extremism.
The economy remained the top issue for voters, but democracy, health care, and education were also very important. After the Supreme Courts’ Dobbs decision, there was a dramatic increase in voters naming abortion as a very important issue.
Ballot initiatives proved a particularly successful strategy for advancing social and economic policies. Voters in New Mexico, for example, approved a constitutional amendment to dramatically boost spending for early childhood education. In Massachusetts, voters supported a “millionaire tax” that will direct more funding to education and infrastructure.
These successes may signal a larger opportunity for those working to advance economic opportunity. While polarization and distrust in government remain high, when economic and social measures are put directly to voters, many have been successful, even in traditionally conversative states like Kansas.
The work doesn’t end on election day. For early childhood education and other measures, effective implementation is critical. With the federal government likely to be deadlocked on major issues for the next two years and millions still remain to be spent in covid relief and infrastructure funds, funders should consider supporting state and local efforts to build on and successfully implement recent policy wins.