Guest columnist Don Baumer: Retrospective of the 2022 midterm election

  • The U.S Capitol is seen on Election Day in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. AP FILE PHOTO/MARIAM ZUHAIB

Published: 11/22/2022 12:06:25 PM
Modified: 11/22/2022 12:06:14 PM

A common aphorism I picked up as a graduate student in political science in the 1970s was “never overestimate the intelligence of the American electorate.”

This rather cynical assessment was based on extensive modern studies of American public opinion and voting behavior, presented most authoritatively in the seminal book “The American Voter,” first published in 1960, and backed up by many similar studies that followed in the 1960s and 1970s, continuing to the present.

Of course, “The American Voter” was preceded by many accounts of American politics written by historians; an especially notable one was Richard Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.”

For most of us liberal Democrats the Trump era has been a depressing experience that seemed to underscore the wisdom of doubting the intelligence of American voters. The results of the 2022 midterm elections, however, suggest that the longstanding saying quoted above requires an important codicil: “Do not overestimate the stupidity of the American electorate.” Trump Republicans failed to recognize or appreciate this, and it cost them a lot.

This is not to say that the reaction to the Dobbs decision and the belief in abortion rights were not important factors in the election — they certainly were. But, when all the traditional factors that political scientists and other analysts have used for many years to predict American election outcomes are taken into account — presidential approval ratings, various economic indicators, citizen views about whether the country is on the right or wrong track, trust in government, and others — this should have been a very good election for Republicans.

Two points of comparison would be the 1994 midterm following Clinton’s first term when the Republicans picked up 54 House seats, and 2010 midterm after Obama’s first term, when they picked up 61 House seats.

My sense of why the results were so different this time is that most Americans were not stupid enough to believe all the lies and absurdities put forward by Trump and his allies. I would also credit the good “ground game” (fundraising and get out the vote efforts) played by Democratic candidates and party leaders at all levels, but I think Democrats would be wise to not conclude that they “won” this election.

Rather they should breathe a sigh of relief that the nonsense espoused by Trump and many Republican candidates was too much for most Americans to believe.

We Democrats should also gird ourselves for the next big challenge: Ron DeSantis and his frontal attack on “wokeism,” which may prove to be a more powerful weapon against us than Trump’s election denialism.

Remember American voters are neither exceptionally intelligent, nor exceptionally ignorant.

Don Baumer lives in Florence.
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