The 2022 midterm elections will take place Tuesday (Nov. 8). With the country facing the looming effects of violence perpetrated at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, uncertain economic times, high-profile Supreme Court decisions and hot-button policy issues, Notre Dame experts discuss the many things voters will be considering at the polls.
Matt Hall, director, Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy
The midterms may not be where we lose our democracy, but they might set the stage for it.
The key is not that what happens in the midterm elections will be inherently anti-democratic — it’s that they may put in place officials who could then undermine our democracy in 2024. We’ve already seen members of Congress willing to overthrow perfectly legitimate election results, and we may see a lot more of that in 2024 if Republicans take the House and the Senate.
The midterms will also emphasize the importance of a lot of offices that people often don’t pay enough attention to — secretaries of state, attorneys general and governors races will all be critical, in part because they can’t be gerrymandered. And these statewide offices will be key players in how the 2024 election is handled. That’s where, if the wrong people are in place, democracy could completely fall apart in 2024.
Rick Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law
Contrary to what some were predicting last summer, it does not appear that the Supreme Court and its recent high-profile and controversial cases are major issues for voters heading into the 2022 elections. This year’s court term will also involve a number of such cases, and commentators’ and critics’ attention will focus almost exclusively on them. However, it is important for Americans to appreciate that the vast bulk of the court’s work involves technical legal questions, not ideological or partisan battles. Those who claim or complain that the court is “political” or even “illegitimate” when the justices do not deliver their preferred policy outcomes misunderstand the court and its role in our constitutional system.
The court is not “broken” simply because it corrected some previous errors or because a majority of the current justices were appointed by presidents of one particular party. The threat to the court today comes not from the justices’ rulings but from media coverage and political criticism that assume the court’s role is to deliver particular results.
Luis Fraga, director, Institute for Latino Studies
Traditionally, immigration and education are important to Latinos, and health care comes up because Latinos are among the most uninsured populations in the United States. And then you would take into account, for the upcoming election, whatever the big issue is that the candidates choose to focus upon.
There is an inconsistency between what Latino voters, and perhaps all American voters who are Catholic, say their positions are on issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage, and how they will actually vote because you’re balancing all of these different dishes. We know what the official position of the Church is, against abortion, gay marriage and sometimes even against civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. But you have to balance that with a preferential option for the poor that comes out of Vatican II. You have to balance that with a very, very strong and unambiguous position on immigration, where the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis have said this is a huge issue and we know we have to be on the side of immigrants. And so how do you balance those off if candidates don’t align that way? And what’s interesting is that in this country and many other countries, candidates do not align perfectly on those important issues where the Church has taken a position. So I think that’s reflected in the voting preferences of Latino voters and for Catholic voters generally.
What I have found is that there are more Latino voters who are willing to put reproductive rights and gay marriage aside when deciding who to vote for, ultimately, than many traditionalist white Catholics where that becomes more determinative. It will be interesting to see how it works out, given the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade and the continuing harsh policies with regards to immigration, some of them even continuing under the Biden administration.
Mark Berends, director, Center for Research on Educational Opportunity
Amidst the turmoil and violence in our politics today, we have to find a better way. We need to think bigger and longer term. What I appreciate about Notre Dame is its call to be a force for good — animated by the Gospel — to improve the conditions of the poor, underserved and marginalized. Toward that end, a set of policies we must think more deeply about relates to educational policies to promote access for teachers to enter the profession; develop their knowledge, skills and commitment to the profession; and reward and retain them for longer careers. Many of the federal and state educational policies put in place over the past two decades have been punitive for schools and teachers, holding them accountable for their value added to student test scores. The result has been the demoralization of teachers and the exacerbation of teacher shortages, particularly in certain subjects and certain areas. In addition to the important societal issues of the economy, climate change and human rights, we need to attend to and focus on effective reforms for teachers, leaders and school systems. We also need our politicians at various levels to commit to improving education. Students’ futures and our nation depend on it. We have not had an effective track record on education. It’s time to do better.
Jason Reed, Wade Family Associate Teaching Professor of Finance
James Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” while working on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. That phrase is still as pertinent as ever in 2022, 30 years later. As we approach election day and the holiday season, consumers will be more conscious of their buying power this year. Inflation has been and will continue to be the focus for politicians, political pundits and almost all Americans. Since the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates in March of 2022, inflation has continued to put upward pressure on gas, food, cars and health care, all of our essential needs. The Fed continues to chart a course that suggests we’re still in for some tough economic times — with the threat of a recession looming large. Markets braced for another large interest rate hike in November and are more unclear on the Fed’s December decision.
While there are signs that the economy is finally starting to decelerate, political candidates will continue to highlight these impacts and how workers’ wages aren’t keeping up — which is part of the Fed’s economic plan. New car prices have finally started to come down from dizzying heights, and gas prices are far below their June highs of over $5 per gallon, evidence of the deceleration. Consumers will continue to make hard decisions at the grocery store as prices remain elevated. These mixed signals manifest in consumer confidence that is still far below 2020 levels. Politicians know that the most visible prices, food and gas, play a large role in setting consumer expectations. We’ll continue to see fiscal policy and pressure from the White House to keep gas prices hovering around $3.75 per gallon, still up over 30 cents from this time last year.
For any political candidate looking to remain in their seat, they’ll tell their constituents a more forward-looking story of where the economy is going while anyone looking to unseat their opponent will rehash where we’ve been. For many of us, when we go to the polls we’ll think to ourselves … “It’s the economy, stupid.”