Opinion: The “Red Wave” Was Unrealistic from the Start — Here’s Why


Jay Johnson and Thomas Fecowycz, Staff Writers

On November 8th, 2022, the American people went out to vote in this year’s midterm elections. For months, both cable and mainstream media outlets proclaimed a “red wave” would engulf the American political map, that republicans would win big and take back control of the House and Senate in stunning fashion. Instead, the GOP narrowly edged the dems for the House and lost an additional seat in the Senate with John Fetterman’s triumphant victory over Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. To add salt to the wound, nearly all Trump-endorsed GOP candidates lost in their respective gubernatorial, Senate, House, and Secretary of State elections. This fierce democratic resistance to conservative ideals, proclaimed by the media and democrats as a stunning and unprecedented victory, should not be surprising, as the whole notion of a “red wave” taking the U.S. by storm was unrealistic to begin.

Historically, the midterm elections, directly after a new president is selected, are usually disastrous for both him and his party, often leading to multiple flipped congressional seats and the ruling party’s political power being slashed. In the past four midterm elections occurring after a new president is elected, the party of power, on average, lost 37 seats in the House and three seats in the Senate. Additionally, President Joe Biden has one of the lowest approval ratings of any modern-day president, currently favored by less than 40% of the American people.

Despite all of these advantages for the republicans, however, they still heavily underperformed. The complacent attitude shared among republican lawmakers was catalyzed by a major political win for the GOP in 2021: the Virginia gubernatorial election. In a shock to both democrats and the nation, republican Glenn Youngkin upset democrat Terry McAuliffe in a race most voters and pollsters agreed would be a democratic lock. Mr. Youngkin, a former President Donald Trump supporter, and other republicans used this victory as a forewarning to democrats. Their message was simple: Congress would flip from blue to red, and there was nothing the democrats could do about it. This shocking triumph for the GOP, alongside polls stating previously-democratic congressional districts would now be coin tosses, sparked the “red wave” debate.

While precedent and past statistics did point to a republican sweep similar to that of 1994, which saw democrats lose 54House and eight Senate seats, the media failed to realize two things: the current polarized state of the American political system and the power of fear and anger among a population. In the case of the former, republicans and the media failed to realize the level of political motivation shared by most democratic voters, who would do anything to stop a republican takeover of Congress. As for the latter, the media and the republicans failed to account for two critical things: former President Trump’s simmering popularity and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The first major problem that occluded republicans from a takeover of Congress was ironically considered by many to be one of the republicans’ assets going into the elections: the voice and political influence of former President Trump. Trump, as mentioned before, endorsed many candidates for congressional, Senate, gubernatorial, and Secretary of State elections. Many media figures and pollsters believed Mr. Trump still had significant political influence among the GOP and its supporters; this, however, was not the case, as almost all Trump-endorsed candidates lost their respective races. This underperformance, alongside Ron DeSantis’s colossal win in Florida, now has many to believe the GOP and many of its supporters have moved on from Trump and are switching allegiances to Governor DeSantis. Despite the apparent power and weight of Mr. Trump’s words and endorsements, it was still foolish for so many in the media to automatically assume a Trump endorsement would better the chances of his nominees; in fact, many polls and precursory signs leading up to the midterm elections alluded to the dissolving power and influence of Trump. 

Although President Biden is disliked by many, his reintegration of some semblance of normalcy in American politics and governance has made some Americans feel more comfortable and reassured. Because of this, accompanied by Trump’s continuous refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, many Americans turned out and voted against Trump’s handpicked candidates. However, his fading voice and sway within the GOP would not have single-handedly caused republicans to underperform in this year’s midterm elections; republicans likely would have performed better if this complication was the only major issue they suffered, as it did not directly affect the life of the everyday American. The GOP’s second major problem, however, would be why the scales were tipped from right to left during these midterm elections.

The reason for the republicans’ successes in 2002, which were the only midterm elections in the past thirty years in which the party in power gained seats in both the House and Senate, was because of one life-altering day: September 11, 2001. America rallied behind then-President George W. Bush and voted for his party in the following year’s midterm elections. While no terrorist attacks occurred on American soil this year, another extremely consequential incident occurred on June 24th: the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court’s finding that the Constitution did not grant a fundamental right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the 49-year precedent of Roe, sparked anger and outcry among pro-choice camps and supporters across the nation. This landmark decision, which eroded federal abortion rights and allowed each state to decide upon the legality of abortion, rejuvenated democratic voter turnout, especially among voters in the 18–25 age demographic. Many democratic candidates quickly jumped on the issue, promising to fight for and pass legislation regarding women’s right to choose. This pivotal issue proved consequential in this year’s midterm elections, as pro-choice supporters voted across the country in droves.

The media and republicans’ failure to realize the rejuvenation of democratic voter turnout as a result of former President Trump’s waning popularity and the overturning of Roe v. Wade had many to believe a “red wave” would engulf the American political landscape, a belief full of faults and wishful thinking. While most Americans were surprised the republicans performed as badly as they did, it should not have been a shock to see them fail to meet sky-high expectations. Perhaps republicans will have their way in 2024, but for now, the democrats’ response to the republicans’ 2021 message is loud and clear: Never count your eggs before they hatch.

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