Democracy Survives Midterm Elections

Those who favor the Democratic Party’s policies can breathe a sigh of relief that the red wave never materialized. I had my doubts. President Biden had the best outcome for a president during the midterm elections in 20 years since the Republicans gained 8 seats in the House and one in the Senate during George W. Bush’s first term in 2002. The better news for democracy was the defeat of every election denier seeking to become the top election official in critical battleground states. The clincher for Senate control was the projected win for incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, guaranteeing Democrats at least a 50-50 split in the Senate depending on the outcome in Georgia’s December 6 run-off.

The good news did not end there. Nevada voters also approved a ballot measure to adopt a ranked-choice voting system that would allow them to rank their candidate choices 1 through 5, regardless of party affiliation. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes, he or she wins. If no candidate garners a majority of the votes, the one with the fewest votes is dropped and the votes are reallocated until someone gets 50% plus one. Ranked choice voting allows independent voters to choose candidates throughout the process rather than relying on the two main parties to select candidates during a closed primary which only allows participation by party registrants. Election reformers believe this system will tone down the negativity from candidates as they may lose favor with voters who favor a candidate they denigrate. This system once approved—Nevadans must vote on the measure again in 2024—will be used for state and federal elections but not for the presidential election.

Democratic candidates again received a boost from young voters who showed up in larger than usual numbers. While just 27 percent of 18-29-year-old voters went to the polls this year, the numbers were higher than expected judging from past midterm elections. It was the second-highest turnout for these voters in the past 30 years with the 2018 election being the exception when 30 percent of young voters went to the polls to help give Democrats control of Congress. According to exit polling, young voters favored Democrats over Republicans by 63% to 35%. Both parties have a long way to go to motivate young voters who cast just 12 percent of the total vote. Millennials and Generation Z voters will comprise the largest voting bloc in the 2024 elections. Charlie Kirk, a self-proclaimed MAGA Republican, recently launched the conservative youth organization Turning Point to influence politics in Arizona and beyond.

Democrats would be unwise to rest on their laurels after their surprisingly favorable outcome in the midterm elections. They need to do a better job connecting with young voters starting with the Georgia runoff on December 6. While they have sealed control of the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote, having the additional vote in Sen. Raphael Warnock would help to neutralize West Virginia nuisance Sen. Joe Manchin who helped derail much of Biden’s agenda because of his obsequiousness to the coal industry. Of course, that would be no guarantee with the uncertainty our social worker Sen. Kyrsten Sinema brings to the game. But having Warnock’s vote would certainly be helpful. My hope is that Republicans will be demoralized and stay home because their votes will not change control of the Senate. Democrats need to put all they have into getting as many voters as possible to the polls.

This good news does not mean democracy is no longer under threat. It is still a fragile system, and we need to be as vigilant as before in addressing the threats and promoting ways to preserve and strengthen our majoritarian system of government. Social workers need to be more engaged in the political arena. Our voices need to be heard and we must continue to work for meaningful change. Please join our panel of political social workers Thursday, November 17 at 1:30 p.m. for a critical discussion of our takeaways from the 2022 midterm elections and their implications for the social work profession. What shape would democracy be in if it depended on social workers helping to save it?

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