The 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections: A beginner’s guide
On an episode of ‘Political Experts React’ hosted by ‘Pod Save America’, guest expert Sarah Longwell, founder of the Republican Accountability Project, commented on the importance of the U.S. midterm elections. One notable comment was “2022 is 2024”, alluding to the fact that the results of this race will be the precursor to the 2024 Presidential election. We are still more than a year away from the 2024 Presidential election, yet with the midterm elections across the country this November, many are seeing this as the ‘litmus test’ for the Biden presidency. U.S. politics in general has been going through an ‘identity crisis’ since Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate back in 2016. Whilst Trump was able to garner enough support to become President, some Republicans have become disillusioned by the current wave of ‘Trumpism’ replacing the perceived core tenets of the Republican political identity.
Following the events of January 6 2021, the integrity of democracy in the U.S. has been questioned due to Trump’s hesitancy to concede defeat, and Republican claims of voter fraud to discredit Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. These claims have been carried by the majority of Republican politicians who either wholeheartedly support this claim or only espouse it in order to receive Trump's endorsement for their own campaigns. The results of the 2020 elections have seen the precarious balance of political power between the two parties, particularly in the Senate — sitting with a 50-50 split that can only pass a vote with the Vice-President’s support.
However, the popularity of the President is not the only guiding factor for politicians in the midterm elections; 2022 has seen one major event after another, particularly concerning the United States. Namely, the war in Ukraine and the subsequent inflation in the cost of living for many Americans, the rollback of abortion rights with the repeal of Roe v Wade, the ever-widening gap in ideology between the two major parties, and student loan forgiveness. This article will be a guide on key races, the key issues, and why they matter. I will be undertaking an individualised analysis of several key candidates, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses as politicians.
What are the midterm elections?
Midterm elections are local, state, and federal elections that occur halfway through a U.S. presidential term. However, the majority of international focus is placed federally, on the races for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. George Washington University Politics Professor Gary Nordlinger argues: “Whoever controls the House or the Senate controls the agenda.” As such, both Democrats and Republicans invested in campaign advertisements for candidates that are primed to be successful in the eyes of voters.
Abortion Rights: It is undeniable that the repeal of abortion rights at the federal level has caused a renewal in activism and protest. It was repealed with a 6–3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, holding that abortion rights should be decided by the states, and its ruling the catalyst for several states’ “trigger bans” — laws enacted to repeal abortion rights as soon as the Supreme Court decision went through. As of October 2022, 13 states have enacted total bans on abortion, meaning no exception in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
Ukraine: Since March, the U.S. government has given its full support in the defence of Ukraine to combat Russian aggression; as of September 8, the Department of State reported that approximately 15.2 billion USD has been spent on military assistance. A poll by the University of Maryland found that in October, support for U.S. intervention in Ukraine is sustained: a majority (regardless of party affiliation) were at least somewhat supportive despite higher energy prices (60%) & increased inflation (57%). Moreover, 43% of respondents hold the belief that Ukraine is succeeding, in contrast to the 48% of respondents who believe that Russia is failing. These results have increased since their last poll back in June. As global trade is impacted significantly by the war in Ukraine — shortages of food and raw materials, disruptions to trade routes — the cost of living has increased. House Minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, has stated that Republicans’ support for Ukraine does not extend to a “blank check” for military defence funding if they win a majority in Congress after the midterms, citing inflation and cost of living as a justification for reduced support.
Inflation: While the cost of living has increased worldwide, it has become a major talking point on the campaign trail. According to NextAdvisor, we are now seeing the enduring impacts of COVID-19, which has seen massive labour shortages and increases in consumer demand, driving up the cost of living. A September report from Open Access Government has shown that food prices have seen the biggest increase since 1979. Coupled with the federal average minimum wage sitting at 7.25 USD — the worst it has been since 1956 — frustrations have been mounting as more people feel that they are no longer “financially secure”.
January 6th Insurrection: It would be difficult to write this article without mentioning the importance of the events that led up to and transpired during the act of sedition at the U.S. Capitol building. It was the culmination of the divisive nature of the two-party political system in the United States, as the Republican party has rebranded itself as ‘The Party of Trump’ since he became the frontrunner for the Presidency back in 2015. As a result, Republican politicians now use Trump’s endorsement in order to win their races. While more Republicans are leaving the party due to ideological differences with Trump, he still sustains a stronghold on the party. This support for a ‘Trump version’ of the Republican party reached a crescendo on January 6, 2021, where Trump felt that a second Presidential term was being stolen from him, speaking to an angry crowd of supporters that it was “time for them to take their country back”. Five people died that day, many were severely injured, and many more watched in real time the biggest attack on U.S. democracy. Despite the number of seditionists criminally charged with various felonies, including the assault of Capitol police officers, and the leaders of ‘The Proud Boys’ and ‘Oath Keepers’ being charged with seditious conspiracy, Trump’s assertion that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him continues to permeate into Republican ideology, being given the moniker of the “big lie”. Despite refutation from Republican leaders that there was a concerted effort to reject Biden’s victory, the Justice Department revealed that along with Trump’s Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows, six Republican lawmakers begged them to investigate the completely unfounded allegations of voter fraud across the nation. This has not deterred Republicans from supporting candidates who affirm the “big lie” — a survey by Siena College Research Institute and The New York Times found that as of July 2022, 49% of respondents would support a Trump 2024 presidential campaign. This shows that Republicans still require Trump’s endorsement if they wish to gain or retain government positions, with BBC News reporting that Trump’s endorsement resulted in a win rate at 92 per cent for Republicans as of September 2022. This divides Democratic and Republican campaigns, wherein Democrats did not use Biden’s endorsement as the primary prop for their strategy.
It bears repeating that while candidates are campaigning for their own districts or states, they are also campaigning on behalf of the leader of their respective parties, and on the policies those individuals espouse. These races embody the spectrum of ideologies that are influencing voters. There has been particular focus on the potential landscape of the Senate after the last midterms with the current 50–50 split. As such, I will be drawing attention to the most widely spoken about Senate races, for which polling projections were unable to make a definitive call.
John Fetterman/Mehmet Oz (Senate)
Fetterman (Democrat): Pennsylvania’s incumbent lieutenant governor and former mayor of the town of Braddock, PA, is well-known for his support for marijuana legalisation in Pennsylvania and commutations of life sentences. He has faced controversy from Pennsylvanians who believe that his policy positions are antithetical to the majority of Pennsylvanians, especially after his campaign for Lt. Gov. was sponsored by supporters of Bernie Sanders. Moreover, his attendance record as Lt. Gov. has been criticised as an indication of potential absence as Senator.
Oz (Republican): Celebrity doctor most famous for ’The Dr. Oz Show’. While he claims to be a ‘moderate’ Republican, Oz supports Trump’s assertion of voter fraud in 2020, among the many other political positions now required of Republican candidates, such as the opposition of critical race theory.
Raphael Warnock/Herschel Walker (Senate)
Warnock (Democrat): Incumbent Senator serving with Democratic Senator Jon Osoff since 2020. Warnock has embraced the label of ‘progressive’, especially when it comes to abortion rights — despite his former role as a church pastor, calling himself a “pro-choice pastor”.
Walker (Republican): Labelling himself as a close friend of Donald Trump, Walker wholeheartedly supports the assertion that voter fraud led to his loss back in 2020. His detractors have said that he embodies the ideology of the current Republican party, particularly highlighting his hypocritical stance on abortion as allegations have been coming out that he paid for two abortions during his career as an NFL player. Despite this, the Georgia Senate race is still too close for any pollster to call.
As this article is written, we have now reached election day and the fight to participate in a fair election has made the civic duty of voting far more difficult. Last minute changes to voting certifications in Philadelphia will mean a delay in knowing if Fetterman or Oz will be the newest Senator of Pennsylvania. Across Arizona, the Justice Department is investigating violations of the Voting Rights Act after several recorded incidents of armed men standing near mail-in ballot boxes.
Since the end of World War One, the United States has touted itself as the leader of international relations, establishing the reign of U.S. hegemony across the world. However, as outlined by Joseph Nye, U.S. hegemony will be challenged by emerging great powers like China and Russia. The U.S. is currently in a position where a change in the political make-up of the Senate and the House of Representatives will lead to a switch in major policies, particularly in the realm of the climate crisis. Ultimately, personal ideologies on politics will be the driving factor in voting patterns on November 8.
Update: Fetterman has been declared the newest Senator of Pennsylvania; the Georgia Senate race between Warnock and Walker will move to a December runoff after neither candidate was able to reach the required 50 per cent of the vote.
Shajara Khan graduated from UNSW with a Master of International Relations and a Bachelor of Arts (Korean Studies). During her master's, she worked on her dissertation analysing how ideology plays a major role in U.S. politics