BIPP panel discussion looks at 2022 Midterm Elections

Juliana Rodrigues, Special Features Co-Editor

This past week on Nov. 1, the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) hosted a panel and discussion, “What We Know (and What We Don’t)” to talk through the upcoming 2022 midterm election. 

The BIPP program is headed by Professor of Political Science Chris Ellis and Associate Professor of Political Science John Doces. The panel discussion was facilitated by Ellis and featured Political Science Professors Vivien Leung and Scott Meinke. 

This panel provided critical insight to students, giving them an opportunity to better understand this election which most are eligible to vote in. Many aspects were highlighted including what voters could expect given previous historical trends, why things may not happen as they typically would and what seats in the House and Senate currently look like along with what the polls are projecting. The following will summarize the information that was presented.

Ellis began the discussion with his views on what the election will look like and prefaced the panel with some information on what midterms are typically like. 

Setting the stage for the discussion, Ellis presented reasons regarding the question “Why do presidents lose seats in the midterms?”

History shows that a “Thermostatic Response” is common during midterms, he said. The public opinion moves opposite of the direction of policy change that has been occurring. Essentially, when people do stuff in office, public opinion moves against that side.

With big policy changes provoking people to vote for change within the government, Ellis said that major policy change in the past two years has actually been conservative. The overturning of Roe v. Wade this past summer was one of the first times major policy change leaned conservative with a democratic party in control. Due to this not lining up with historical trends, Ellis said that the upcoming midterm election may not be like ones from previous years.

This notion was similar to many of the ideas Ellis stated during discussion. He said that it was a baseline assumption that the democrats would not do well during this midterm, and while he doesn’t completely believe this will happen, he employed this thinking for his projections and explanations. 

Among his many observations were what the American public is actually focused on. He showed different displays of Google searches in America. Results showed that former President Donald Trump was more commonly searched than President Joe Biden. Following this with search trends from previous midterm elections cycles, he showed how there has not been a time when a past president was more popular in searches than a current one. 

In terms of issues on the ballot, Ellis mentioned abortion. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion access and rights are no longer a theoretical debate but a real issue being voted on in this cycle. Search trends from the past few months showed that Americans looked up “Will Smith” in the spring months at extremely higher rates than “Roe v. Wade” and “abortion” in the summer months. 

Ellis used these search trends to discuss where the American public’s head is really at and argue the point that abortion may not be a leading issue in this midterm. He said that while abortion is ultimately a deal breaker for some voters, it may not be cause enough to swing others.

Ellis began the exploration of two important topics: what people are really focused on going into this midterm election and the effects that former President Trump still has. These ideas were expanded on by Professors Leung and Meinke.

Leung contributed her thoughts from some specific state races and how the election as a whole may pan out. 

In terms of Senate races, she talked about the states of Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, states that could potentially swing either way. 

Showing current polling stats, she said that Georgia democratic candidate Rapheal Warnock was slightly favored to win against Republican Herschel Walker. She continued to say that Walker has been a controversial candidate as he is outwardly anti-abortion but has had multiple girlfriends come forward saying he has funded their abortions.

In Arizona, she said that the independent candidate who was still in the running has backed out and endorsed Republican Blake Masters.

More specifically for Bucknell students registered to vote in Pennsylvania, Leung talked briefly about Dr. Oz and John Fetterman. She mentioned that Fetterman, who is favored to win, had a performance in the most recent debate that did not put him in great standing, but she does not see this having much of a negative affect for his outcome.

She said that Democrats have been outspending Republicans in these states and Nevada, as they are particularly worried about them potentially flipping. She highlighted the importance that spending has in an election like this. 

She said that the Senate race is really up in the air and noted that the spending she mentioned is something to track. Young voters and Democrats tend to vote early, so she said this would be something to pay attention to closer to the election.

Moving to specific issues, Leung explained voters’ agendas as encompassing issues such as the economy, inflation and the threat of “the worse recession we’ve ever seen.” She said that what is likely to happen will be a Republican victory in the House, yet the margin of that victory is something we will only be able to see after the election. 

She also talked for a short period about Trump. A component in this election mentioned first by Ellis, Leung said that Trump endorsements are a double edged sword. Many Republicans now are not Trump fans, and therefore his presence and endorsements have been controversial. 

Following Leung, Meinke shared his similar perspective. Speaking on the House first, he agreed that Republicans will take a victory there but went on to share the reasoning behind differences between this year’s midterm and previous elections. 

He said that in past midterm elections from 1994 and 2010, there were Democrats sitting in dozens of House seats that could lean Republican. In this cycle, many of those seats are already taken by Republicans, and there is not as much opportunity for this. Only five Democrats are sitting in Trump region seats. Meinke continued, saying that while Republicans are still likely to take the House, it will most likely not be a big wave election turnover as we have seen in the past.

With all three professors agreeing on the high possibility of Republicans winning the House race, Meinke talked about “what to expect when you’re expecting a GOP House majority” to close the discussion with the following key points: 

  • Attempt to use the appropriations process and statutory debt ceiling to force policy concessions from the Biden administration
  • Investigate various administrative policies ranging from the Afghanistan pullout to Hunter Biden using special committees
  • Republican attempts for passage of Commitment to America agenda item
  • Internal fights in the House Republican Conference
  • On the Senate side, nominations at standstill


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