Scher: The entire campaign was a clash of narratives: Republicans said the U.S. was facing big crises with inflation and crime. Democrats said America was facing big crises with threats to democracy and abortion access—following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which ended a national right to abortion earlier this year.
To be clear, both parties made arguments that resonated. It’s not as if voters said, We don’t care about inflation or crime. But understanding that exit-poll data is imperfect, it showed abortion was nearly as important to voters as inflation, so Democrats benefited from making that issue central to their argument. It doesn’t completely explain how well they did, but it certainly kept the Democratic base engaged and probably helped attract some college-educated moderates. The closing argument that Joe Biden and Barack Obama made emphasized that “democracy is on the ballot.” That evidently resonated.
Vyse: This emphasis was controversial. Critics argued that Democrats were wasting their time—and maybe even hurting their cause—by talking about threats to democracy, which could have been seen as less pressing concerns than inflation, crime, and the like. In retrospect, it appears Democrats made the right decision.
Scher: Democratic politicians and political groups also made a last-minute effort to warn voters that Republicans would try to cut Medicare and Social Security, so that was in the mix too. But they absolutely made the right decision to talk about democracy. All the election deniers running for secretary of state in swing states lost their races. It seems like it’s not just Democrats but also independents and some Republicans who thought election denial was a bridge too far.
The most heartwarming aspect of this midterm was that democracy was on the ballot in America and democracy won. Both of the country’s political parties have embraced flawed narratives about the state of U.S. democracy in recent years, and these narratives keep being disproven by election results. On the left, the flawed narrative has been that Democrats couldn’t win elections unless they pass a bunch of expansive voting-rights measures. On the right, the narrative—led by Trump—has been that Republicans couldn’t win elections unless they denied that Joe Biden was rightfully elected president in 2020. What we’ve learned is that American voters care about democracy—and are willing to vote to protect it.
This isn’t to say that new voting-rights measures are unnecessary; but these measures will be much easier to pass, and gain much broader public legitimacy, if both parties do it together, realizing—and publicly communicating—that it won’t give one side or the other an advantage, as the evidence shows it doesn’t.