Even the biggest loser (at least to some) of last week’s midterm election was a surprise.

“The 2022 midterm election was expected to be a referendum on Joe Biden. It’s closer to say it was a referendum on the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court lost,” said William Galston, a liberal political theorist, Brookings Institution senior fellow, and Wall Street Journal columnist, during the Program on Constitutional Government’s biennial post-election breakdown, co-sponsored by the Center for American Political Studies.

Galston was joined in the Thursday discussion by conservative journalists Ramesh Ponnuru and Bill Kristol ’73, M.A. ’76, Ph.D. ’79, in trying to make sense of what all agreed was a “crazy” and “remarkable” midterm election.

Pre-election polls had many expecting a nationwide “red wave” of Republican victories, with voters blaming President Biden and the Democrats for the economic pain brought by surging inflation. Instead, Democrats held on to the U.S. Senate, and control of the House of Representatives, while still not fully settled a week later, is likely to yield only a narrow majority  for one side or the other.

One key reason is reflected by exit polls nationwide, which showed that the percentage of people who said inflation and abortion were key was nearly equal. In swing states like Michigan, voters cited abortion (45 percent) over inflation (29 percent) as a top concern in exit polling. The “near parity” in these numbers is a “substantial” part of why everyone has been so surprised by the fizzled Republican showing, said Galston.

Democrats also fared much better with voters who were “lukewarm” on Biden’s performance or the direction of the country, but not “angry” enough to vote for the Republican candidate, said Galston.

Kristol was an early “red wave” skeptic. He attributed the incorrect predictions by the media and others to the relative youth of so many influential political analysts and opinion-makers who have only ever experienced “wave” midterm elections.

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