On Nov. 8, 2022, across America, thousands of people sat at their TVs and computers watching the US midterms unfold. After nearly a week of counting votes, Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the House of Representatives. Even so, the Georgia Senate runoff election is quickly approaching.
Within our own College community, professors and students alike watched with worry and wonder about what would occur. Would the prophesied red wave come to be? Would their own governor transition their power to the next? Will Dr. Oz become the next senator for Pennsylvania?
Professors proclaimed that they didn’t necessarily expect the red wave. But each student’s expectations for the midterms were different based on where they voted.
Dr. Ryan Dawkins, professor of political science with a focus in congressional representation in the United States, said “I was actually fairly skeptical of a lot of the prognostications of a red wave.”
The “red wave” is in reference to the popular belief that the Republican Party would likely take over the Senate and House of Representatives by a large margin. That did not happen.
Dr. Dawkins talked about his belief that the Democrats did a better job with redistricting and managing gerrymandering. “The Dobbs decision, I think, was really important here. I think there’s a number of things that coalesced around the same thing. First, Trump was ever-present, he was looming over everything.” he said. “The combination of the Dobbs decision, some of the really extreme candidates that Trump endorsed was really important, and then that converged with the growing levels of political violence. All of those things, I think, coalesced, around this image of the Republican Party as being too extreme.
Meanwhile, Lucia Urreta ’26 responded differently. Urreta voted in Harris County, Texas where Republican Greg Abbott won the governor race against Democrat Beto O’Rourke. “I was really hoping for Beto to win but there was something inside me that knew that he was probably not able to,” they said. “It’s honestly not surprising but very concerning because as a queer person, and especially a trans person, it’s very scary to see the level of hate that is happening.”
Greg Abbott will begin his third term as Texas governor on Jan. 10.
With expectations, comes reactions. The typical student reaction to the outcome was disappointment and frustration.
Savanna Gray ’23 voted in Knox County, Kentucky, where the Senate race was between Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Charles Booker. Gray expressed hope that people would vote differently in the future. “I want to think that people will do better and vote differently and I have a little bit of hope that they will. I don’t want to give up on the people, especially being someone from a rural community … It was just really frustrating to see [Booker] lose votes in the areas where he directly helped people just because of racism and a lack of knowledge about how things work.”
Phia Endicott ’25 voted Democrat but was still frustrated with the results of the Senate race in her state. Endicott voted in Washington state where the Senate race was between Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Tiffany Smiley. Murray has been Senator for Washington since 1993. “It’s kind of the same every time. It’s always the same. Should I vote for the Republican who thinks I should die or should I vote for the Democrat who’s a 20 year incumbent that’s never done anything. I vote for the Democrat incumbent who’s never done anything,” they said.
Dr. Hayes is a professor in political science with a focus on political violence in American elections. When asked about his reaction, Dr. Hayes expressed his intrigue at the outcome of the election.
“It’s an interesting outcome in that so many of the trends suggested that this shouldn’t have happened … It is still an interesting outcome that I think really highlights some of the big trends that political scientists have been launching,” he said. “There’s kind of a decline in economic issues and an increase in social issues and then a real calcification in party identity returning partisans to a pre-1980s era of politics. I think this kind of election takes all of these trends and kind of just really highlights them.”
With this insight, Dr. Hayes was asked about his prediction for the result of the Georgia runoff election between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
“I think that there’s a lot of reason to believe that it’s now more than ever Raphael Warnock’s race to win,” Dr. Hayes said.
He believes that we can take insight from the 2020-21 runoff election and make a fair assumption. For context, in the 2020 election, Warnock won the Georgia Senate election narrowly in the runoff. (New York Times) He says that Trump’s candidate, Walker, may be seen as too extreme but that doesn’t mean Warnock is going to win automatically. As of Dec. 6, polls are very close between the two candidates (New York Times).
It’s hard to predict the outcome of an election. Even so, each professor was asked if predictions could be made about the presidential election based on the outcome of the Midterms.
Dr. Dawkins said “I would be hesitant to draw any hasty conclusions. There’s already a lot of talk about how Trump is over and DeSantis is the guy. I think a lot of those calls are premature. I think it’s gonna be really interesting to see how this plays out. A lot of people are willing to, or wanting to, anoint DeSantis as the heir apparent for the nomination. But anyone following presidential politics for any amount of time knows that there is a long list of presumptive front-runners who don’t even make it past their state.”
Dr. Dawkins’ opinion mirrors the opinions of Dr. Dendere and Dr. Hayes, both of whom said it would be hasty to make claims about who could win the presidential election today. A lot could change socially and politically in the next two years.
Even if we can’t make predictions, we can still learn a lot from this election. Dr. Chipo Dendere, a professor in African politics with a Masters in Political Science, highlights a major lesson this election presented.
“I think the real story of this election is the importance of the youth vote … In the US, young voters have shown that issues to do with gun violence, with climate change, are the big things that Democrats need to show young voters,” Dr. Dendere said. “That they listen, that they are paying attention, and that they care.”
She talked of how much young voters have an impact on who is elected. She referenced how, even in deep red areas, two of the youngest Democratic Senators ever have been elected during these midterms. She also spoke to how diverse our representation is now compared to the past. She attributed the youth vote for these positive changes.
Instead of asking more political questions to students, the conversation shifted to talking about civic engagement at the College. Each student was asked: “Can Wellesley improve with anything to boost civic engagement? If so, what can Wellesley do?”
Gray thought that the College did well with boosting engagement. She referenced how on election night, she, and other house presidents, canceled their House Councils so students could focus on the election. CPE also hosted many activities across campus to promote awareness about the midterms.
Urreta believes that the College should raise awareness about the tactics of voter suppression and also to remind people that they should show up not just for elections but to actively care about social issues. They think the College should focus more on civic education at the state level.
“I think what I want to see is not just the standard ‘Remember to Vote’ because that is where civic engagement ends. I think there are so many more ways to engage in social and political issues that aren’t voting,” Endicott said. “When talking about voting, there’s so much more to talk about then just ‘Did you vote or did you not vote?’ We should also be talking about voter suppression, all the barriers to voting, and how to support higher voter turnout.”
Dr. Dawkins wanted to remind the Wellesley community that it’s hard to expect anything for future elections. He thinks it will be interesting how the next election will play out and that, “It’s going to be a really interesting next flow of months.”
“Civic engagement doesn’t end with voting. Voting is important but there are so many more things that you can do that are equally if not more important,” said Endicott.
Dr. Hayes is excited to see the uptick in Gen Z voter turnout. He encourages Gen Z to continue what they are doing and that this election really shows that young voters can change the trajectory of elections.
“Something that is so important to do is to educate and show up because education is one of the most important things to prevent this violence,” Urreta said.
Dr. Dendere asked why the College doesn’t have any on-campus polling stations. She also believes that the College faculty could do a better job with talking about the election and especially the ballot measures.
“I don’t want us to forget [about the midterms] because what I think makes Wellesley better than most places is that this is a school, in some ways, on realizing that marginalized persons have to be active in politics,” she said. “Not just that we matter but that we have to be active, active, active.”