In my previous column, I made the point that maintaining hope ahead of the 2022 midterms wasn’t just important for general positivity but critical to the Democratic campaign strategy that drives voter turnout. In fact, I argued that there’s plenty of evidence that Democrats should be hopeful, especially given their strong poll numbers.
Two weeks later, unsurprisingly, those polls have changed, and many of the numbers I previously cited as proof of Democratic strength are beginning to paint a starker picture. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who I had exalted as a new breed of Democratic politician, now trails his opponent J.D. Vance by about one and a half points in the Ohio Senate race. Incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro, D-Nev., polls close to her opponent Adam Laxalt. On the generic ballot, Republicans are ahead for the first time since early August.
There’s plenty of reasons to fear a GOP victory. Republicans in Tennessee have passed laws that would cut funding for schools that defy anti-transgender laws. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made headlines after shipping 48 asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard with empty promises of jobs and support. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proposed a federal abortion ban that could gain more traction, should Republicans take the Senate.
Given all of this supposed doom, gloom and despair, it could seem ludicrous to approach the midterms with anything but panic. To be clear, I’m not saying Democratic success is guaranteed, nor that legitimate concerns over rising contingencies of extremists within the Republican Party should be ignored. If you finish this piece assuming you won’t need to vote this fall, I will have done an incredibly bad job making an argument. Check your voter registration, consult The Michigan Daily’s voter guide and make a plan to vote on Nov. 8. Polls show the midterm races tightening up, and some concern is warranted, but that is no cause for Democratic disarray. When it comes to the economy, policy implementation and early turnout, things are not as bad as they seem.
An economy rife with inflation and recession fears is by no means good, but there are signs of improvement. One promising sign is the recent decline in gas prices. The national average now lies around $3.80 per gallon, with both President Joe Biden’s move to release 15 million barrels of oil from the strategic oil reserve, as well as other market forces at play. A continued decline in gas prices will eventually cause a ripple effect on the economy, leading to a decline in production costs and prices.
On top of that, there are the predictions of one of the world’s top economists. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan recently argued that the economy is in a far better place than previously thought. He anticipated the U.S. will experience a light recession before rebounding soon after — nothing near the calamity of 2008 or the pandemic.
Moynihan, who was one of the first to predict a post-pandemic boom in the economy, has cited strong consumer spending as his central argument. Consumer spending is a measure of how much is spent on goods and services and can be a short-term indicator of the health of the economy. Ahead of a recession, consumer spending typically drops, but the opposite occurred this August when consumer spending rose by 0.4%. That level of growth is actually stronger than pre-pandemic levels: consumer spending increased by 0.3% in 2019.
According to Moynihan, the economy is not in as bad of a place as most Americans believe. There are signs of improvement. Democrats need to focus on those signs, as well as prove that more economic growth will occur, should they gain more seats in November.
A second encouraging sign is Biden’s implementation of popular policy ahead of the midterms. He canceled $10,000 in federal student debt, pardoned those convicted of federal marijuana possession charges and decreased the annual budget deficit by nearly $1.4 trillion.
These policies are incredibly popular — often more popular than the Democrats who implement them. Canceling “all” or “some” federal student debt is supported by 60% of Americans. Though 98% of marijuana convictions occur at the state level, Biden’s move to pardon those convicted was popular among 62% of Americans. And while it’s still too early to poll Americans’ thoughts on the most recent budget deficit reduction, 83% of Americans consider the deficit to be either a very or somewhat important issue to them.
Issue polling is often overshadowed by approval ratings, and Biden’s current 42.4% is far from ideal. Historically, however, it’s worth noting that Biden’s approval rating is slightly better than Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Trump’s going into their first-term midterm elections.
Democrats need to frame this election around what they can give to voters. Focusing on their success in canceling student debt, pardoning those convicted with federal marijuana charges and in lowering the annual budget deficit can accomplish that.
The final ray of hope is the already record-breaking levels of voter turnout in states where early voting has begun.
Over the summer, high special election turnout — particularly for a ballot initiative in Kansas that would have banned abortion — shocked the nation. That trend seems to be continuing in the general election. In many states, early voting is projected to meet or exceed levels reached in 2018, an election resoundingly won by Democrats. In North Carolina, early voting has remained largely “on par” with 2018 levels. In Ohio, early and absentee ballot requests increased 0.4 percentage points above 2018 numbers. In Georgia, 520,000 voters have already cast an early ballot, an increase of 53% from 2018. Of those early ballots, as of October 24th, 49% are estimated to be Democrats, while 42% are Republicans.
Increased turnout is good for democracy as a whole. However, a Democratic lead in the early vote, at least in Georgia, shows that some of Biden’s economic and social policy strategies may be convincing voters.
And yet, some students still aren’t convinced. LSA freshman Ryan Hildwein from Muskegon, Mich. described himself as being pretty anxious and said “there’s a lot at stake in this election.” Engineering Freshman Xavier Donnellon from Dallas, Texas echoed those concerns: “Unfortunately [in Texas], I’m expecting a Republican win.”
LSA freshman Asaf Martinez Cardoza from Holland, Mich. offered a different outlook. Martinez Cardoza, who leans “more conservative,” was more anxious about the Governor’s gubernatorial race but conceded that Whitmer would likely win. When asked about the midterm elections on the national level, though, Martinez Cardoza was more definitive. “I’m definitely more excited to see how the results are … I feel like there definitely is going to be more of a push towards Republicans considering the administration this past two years.”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious about November. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been up all night last week crafting different election scenarios on 270towin and frivolously checking FiveThirtyEight. And I’d be lying if I said I’m not concerned by the growing number of women who no longer have access to abortion and the havoc a federal abortion ban could cause.
But then I talked to Business freshman Jose Dasilva from Philadelphia, Pa. When asked if he was anxious for the midterm elections, he replied succinctly: “This term, especially, there’s a lot of issues on the ballot that are extremely important. Things like women’s rights that can affect people … for the rest of their lives.” When I asked him about his thoughts on the Pennsylvania Senate race, Dasilva replied, “I’m anxious but not that anxious … Philadelphia, it’s a very big Democratic stronghold … [but] once you leave into more rural areas outside of Philadelphia, the thinking tends to shift quite a bit.”
As Dasilva continued, his confidence grew. “But at the same time, I think Fetterman has [it] in the bag … I think Whitmer’s gonna wrap this one up quickly,” he said. “I still think it’s gonna be pretty close. But I think Democrats are going to take control of the Senate, and also the House … I’m very confident [in that].”
Democrats could use some of Dasilva’s confidence. Polling numbers have tightened over the summer, threats to democracy persist and the outlook may seem grim. Yet, despite Democratic woe, the economy is showing signs of growth, voters are turning out and popular policy is being enacted. Democrats have capitalized on the energy produced by Dobbs. Let’s hope they maintain it.
John Kapcar is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.