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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Voters hit the polls to decide who will control Congress, statehouses

The 2022 midterm election is seen by many as a referendum on an unpopular president and the Democrats who control Congress.

(CN) — After months of politicians, prognosticators, pollsters and pundits dominating the election conversation, it’s now the voters’ turn to have their say.  

The votes they cast Tuesday will determine who controls Congress, state legislatures and governors’ offices. Voters will also elect attorneys general and judges and decide the fate of proposed constitutional amendments.

The national focus is on which party will control the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, which will determine the success or failure of the remainder of President Joe Biden’s term. The president’s party typically loses seats in Congress in midterm elections – prompting George W. Bush to concede Republicans got a “thumpin’” in 2006 and Barack Obama to admit Democrats got a “shellacking” in 2010. That could happen again this year given Biden’s unpopularity and the public’s gloom about the economy.

Public opinion poll aggregators say Republicans are favored win back control of the U.S. House but that control of the Senate ranges from a toss-up to a slight edge for Republicans. The House is now controlled by Democrats 222-213 with all 435 seats up for election. Pollsters say the two major political parties are in a dead heat for control of the Senate, where 34 of 100 seats are up for grabs. The Senate is now divided 50-50 with Democratic Vice President Kamal Harris holding the tiebreaking vote.

Key Senate battleground races that could decide the outcome are in Arizona, where incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly is facing Republican Blake Masters; Georgia, where Republican Herschel Walker is challenging Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock; Nevada, featuring a contest between incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt; and Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz are vying for an open seat.

Polls have been unreliable at predicting election outcomes in the past, and as in all elections, the outcome will be determined by who shows up to cast ballots.

“I will say that anyone who thinks they really know what's going to happen on [Election Day] is really just guessing,” University of Delaware political science professor David Redlawsk told Courthouse News.

“This is a year where I don't think the past is a great guide," Redlawsk said. "We've not had an election where one party was casting doubt on the outcome of the election, and one party whipping up” concern about abortion rights after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Pollsters have to make a prediction about turnout, and “that's really, really hard this year,” he said. “Turnout models based on history – that may or may not be accurate this election.”

Redlawsk said the economy is a factor, but also pointed to a fear of the unknown.

“I think fear is actually an important piece of this,” he said. “Fear gets us to pay attention. But there is not much evidence that it gets us to do anything about it.”

Anger is a more effective motivator, he said. In the 2018 midterm election, for example, Democrats were angry about then-President Donald Trump.

“I don’t think [the Donald Trump factor] is as strong as some of us thought it would be in the run-up to this election,” Redlawsk said. “Democrats haven’t made him an issue, and to Republicans it doesn’t matter. They will vote for Republicans either way.”

Republicans are trying to get people angry about the economy, he said. Democrats saw potential for stirring up anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe in June, but the Republicans have since sought to neutralize that issue.

"They have scrubbed some of the earlier abortion rhetoric from their websites," Redlawsk said, and the potency of the abortion issue has faded over time.

Voters cast ballots early in Indianapolis on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Courthouse News also spoke with several voters in Iowa representing both parties and differing perspectives to get a sense of what is driving voters in this election.

Mike Hodges, 69, of Wapello, Iowa, a retired weekly newspaper publisher

Hodges got a sample of public opinion among a group of about eight friends meeting for coffee one recent morning. The group ranged in age from 30 to 70, some conservative, some liberal.

“There wasn’t anything positive said about the current administration,” he said. “I asked, ‘What has President Biden done well?’ they couldn’t come up with anything.”

Inflation was near the top of the list of concerns, followed by energy costs.

“Everybody’s just appalled we are talking to Saudi Arabia, and even Venezuela, about oil when it’s available here,” Hodges said.

His assessment of Trump: “I supported almost everything he did,” although “his personality rubbed me the wrong way, and some of his tweets were bad. I hope someone else is the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. I hope it is the governor of Florida. But if Trump is the nominee in 2024, I will vote for him.”

Kacey Davis, 37, a nurse practitioner in Des Moines

What’s at stake in this election? “So many things,” Davis said. “I think our democracy is in danger, and that’s frightening.”

Climate change is among the issues at the forefront for her this election: “I have a young child. To me, climate change is a big thing. I will be affected by it in my lifetime, and it will affect his life catastrophically.”

“Women are under attack,” she added, citing the overturning of Roe.

How effective are Democrats in making the case for their issues?

“As effective as they can be in the current environment. Trying to stay in power limits how far they can go," Davis said.

Up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness per borrower, for example, “really that’s a drop in the bucket” for many people paying off student loans, she said. “It’s good but not good enough.” She said there would have been major political and economic consequences if Biden had wiped out all student debt. Davis won't benefit from the forgiveness program because she did not have student loan debt and her husband worked to pay off his loans.

Davis said she's "feeling the pain" economically, like many others. While she said she and her husband make pretty good money, she said, “I don’t feel great about my financial situation.”

She said Biden is too old and she would have preferred someone else - she caucused for Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2020 - but will vote for Biden if he runs again in 2024.

If Trump runs in 2024? “I can’t even fathom it. We are doomed," she said.

Sheila Westegard, 71, of Bloomfield, Iowa, a semi-retired parttime bookkeeper

When asked what's at stake in this election, Westegard replied, "Just about everything that’s important. I can’t believe what’s happened to my country and to my state."

 “I think Donald Trump is the worst thing that’s happened to the country in my lifetime. I can’t blame everything on him,” she said, but she blames him for the current toxic political environment. “He gave permission for people to be hateful. He is hateful.”

Westegard regrets the decline in civility between people on different sides of the aisle.

“My mother was the Democratic chair for Davis County for many years,” she said. “Her neighbor was the Republican chair, and they got together for coffee. They were friends.”

The issues driving voters this election among her family and friends include abortion, the economy and climate change.

Asked if there are any things she agrees on with Republicans, Westegard came up blank.

“They are anti-diversity, against the right to choose, and don’t want to pay taxes," she said.

She said Biden's lack of popularity is not surprising to her.

"I get that he’s old, probably too old," she said. "But he has the best interests of the country at heart.”

Marlene Dominick, 85, of Des Moines

What’s at stake in this election? “A lot, a lot. Women’s rights are certainly one of the bigger things. Abortion is a big issue," Dominick said. "The Republicans are trying to downplay it. But what’s next? Same-sex marriage? Interracial marriage?”

She said the economy is a key issue for her as she thinks of her two grown children and four grandchildren, adding that, "People can’t afford to go to the grocery store."

She has voted for Republican candidates in the past and will vote for Iowa’s incumbent secretary of state, a Republican. She voted for U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, in the past but not this election, instead favoring his Democratic opponent Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral whom she called “really smart” and “open-minded.”

Her take on Biden? “I’ve never been a Biden fan. Sometimes I think he doesn’t have it all together," Dominick said. She does not attribute it to age, but she said he is not an especially confident speaker, likely due to growing up with a stutter.

But if Biden runs again in 2024, she will support him.

“I have no choice," said Dominick, who supported Bernie Sanders in 2020.

John Schroeder, 76, of Bloomfield, Iowa, executive director of the Davis County Development Corp.

Asked what's at stake this election, Schroeder said, “My personal feeling is our way of life, which has brought us to the position of being the greatest nation in the world.” He’s concerned that has changed due to a lack of personal responsibility and a reliance on government.

He cites John F. Kennedy’s line from his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Today, Schroeder said, “everybody is asking what Washington can do for me.”

He leans Republican but supports candidates from both parties. “I will not vote a straight party ticket," he said.

He said the economy is the top issue for many voters and the border is “right up there.” But, “for me, it’s what I said about the reliance on the government – and government’s intrusion into our lives.”

On Donald Trump: “I know he was an SOB. I’m not blind. But he was pretty much right on with every one of his policies.” Still, “he’s divisive” and “I just think his time has come and gone. I lost respect for him on how he reacted to the outcome of the [2020] election.”

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