After every general and midterm election for the past dozen years or so, Ed Dover, Professor Emeritus of Politics, Policy and Administration at Western Oregon University, gives a talk to the Salem City Club about what just happened.
He started out by talking about the power of political metaphors, the goal being to create a memorable image or phrase that will stick in peoples' minds. This year "Red Wave" was heard over and over -- the image being of a 100 foot tall wall of water that would obliterate Democratic hopes.
(An aside: Dover pointed out that long ago, NBC News decided to use red for Republicans and blue for Democrats. Since, that tradition has stuck, though never adopted by either party. In Canada, by contrast, the colors for liberals and conservatives are reversed.)
But the Red Wave never broke upon the nation's political shores. It basically was a status quo election. No incumbent U.S. senators were voted out. In the House, 359 of 367 incumbent representatives held on to their seats. In Oregon, just one incumbent in the state legislature lost.
The prevailing trend that Dover has talked about before held: Democrats did well in urban areas, Republicans in rural areas, with the suburbs being tossups. Yet even though not much political change happened overall, more money was spent on the election than any other, excepting those in presidential years.
Just one Senate seat changed hands, the one in Pennsylvania won by Democrat John Fetterman, in part because Republican Oz was a bad candidate. (The Georgia seat held by Warnock won't be decided until a runoff election on December 6.) Four Governor races were won by the opposite party: three by Democrats and one by Republicans.
So what happened to the Red Wave? Dover chalks it up to a Blue Tsunami metaphor that didn't get anywhere near the same attention. Michael Moore did predict a Democratic tsunami before the election, but he lacked much company.
It's an apt metaphor. Big waves are clearly visible from afar. Large tsunamis, being an upwelling of the entire ocean, are barely visible on the open ocean, creating their massive effects only when they reach shore. Thus a hidden Blue Tsunami stopped the supposedly readily apparent Red Wave.
However, predictions of a Red Wave were largely based on historical precedent. In Reagan's 1982 midterm, Republicans lost 22 House seats. In Clinton's 1994 midterm, the GOP took 54 seats in the House. Democrats lost 63 House seats in Obama's 2010 midterm. Republicans lost 42 seats in Trump's 2018 midterm.
Usually, Dover said, this pattern holds true because of a change in turnout in midterm elections as compared to presidential elections. In a midterm, the party in power in Washington has had some successes in the first two years of a presidency, but many in the president's party are disillusioned that more hasn't been accomplished.
Programs take time to get through Congress. Then it takes more time for their effects to be felt, as is the case with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act. The party not in power is more enthusiastic about voting, since they want to change things to be more in their favor.
But in 2022 this pattern didn't hold. Dover listed three reasons: (1) Women in general; (2) Issues of concern to women; (3) Donald Trump.
He quoted Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist, as saying that pundits wrongly insist that women are an interest group. Actually, women are the voters, comprising 52% of the electorate. And the political gender gap is growing larger.
Dover said that in Oregon, Measure 111, which enshrines a right to health care in the state constitution, passed because of women. Same was true with Measure 114, which regulates firearm purchases. Nationally, abortion was a central issue for women following the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.
He noted that after the United States prohibited the sale of alcohol way back when, some thought this would put an end to drinking. But it didn't, obviously. Soon prohibition was in the nation's rear view mirror. Likewise, allowing states to ban abortion didn't stop support for the procedure. Quite the opposite.
Kansas Republicans put an abortion ban on the 2022 primary ballot because they thought fewer Democrats would vote in the primary, given how much Kansas politics favors the GOP. But the ban was defeated 60-40 in the largest primary turnout ever in Kansas, in large part due to 1/3 of Republicans voting it down.
In Michigan, supporters of a pro-abortion initiative only had three weeks to get 425,000 signatures after the Supreme Court decision. They got 750,000, and the initiative passed easily in the midterm election. Republicans had a disastrous election in Michigan, which usually is viewed as a swing state.
Building on this momentum, Dover said that Planned Parenthood is planning initiatives in every state where abortion is illegal. Younger voters are motivated by the abortion issue, with youth turnout in the recent midterm election being the highest in 50 years. Young women voted 70% Democratic.
Dover didn't have much time to discuss Trump's effect on the election other than to note that the Big Lie election deniers he backed in swing states all lost. And in the Q&A period he said that support for Trump already is declining.
Asked about how extreme partisanship can be lessened in Oregon, Dover said that getting rid of closed primaries would help a lot, since not allowing nonaffiliated people to vote in primaries encourages Democrats and Republicans to nominate extreme candidates that appeal to the base.
I asked a question about why both Salinas in the 6th Congressional District and McLeod-Skinner in the 5th Congressional District each underperformed Biden's margin of victory in 2020. (Salinas won, McLeod-Skinner lost.) Dover's answer was that neither were incumbents. Thus I see reason to think that if Kurt Schrader had been chosen as the Democratic nominee in the 5th District, he could have fared better than McLeod-Skinner.
Of course, that would have turned off progressives, who heartily disliked Schrader, so Republican Chavez-DeRemer might have won anyway.