Professors Break Down Recent Midterm Elections


Students and community members gathered last Monday evening for a roundtable discussion on the recent midterm elections. Hosted by the UC Irvine Center for the Study of Democracy, the panel was led by political science professors Louis DeSipio, Davin Phoenix, Mark Petracca and Carole Uhlaner.
The panel discussed the results of the midterm election, namely the implications of the low turnout rate across the nation and in California, patterns observed during the election and the Republican party’s newfound advantage.
Phoenix discussed the election’s turnout trends to illustrate the democratic consequences of restrictive voter ID laws, which prevent individuals without IDs from registering to vote.
“Nationally, there is no indication that suggests evidence that these voting laws have led to drastic turnout declines among minority groups, but maybe these national trends are obscuring statewide trends,” said Phoenix.
“Macro-level trends that we begin to detect should not obscure these micro-level frustrations. Even as we focus on numbers that suggest democratic practices have not been altered, there is still something to be said about people who want to cast votes but are not able to and should be able to.”
Petracca added that it is important to instill voter confidence because each person has the potential to make a difference in the outcome of an election.
“This year, Bao Nguyen decided to run against the incumbent Democratic mayor of Garden Grove Bruce Broadwater, who has been in office for a very long time (…) incumbents are very difficult to defeat,” said Petracca.
“As votes were being counted, both Broadwater and Bao picked up votes, but Bao’s rate of picking up votes was just slightly higher than Bruce Broadwater’s, and a few days ago, Bao won by just 15 votes. If anybody tells you that your vote doesn’t matter, it did matter in Garden Grove, at least this year in the general election.”
Petracca also focused on midterm election results in California. Although the Republican party did very well nationwide, it performed very poorly in the state.
“California Republicans are increasingly becoming a white man’s party, in a state where white men no longer constitute anything close to the majority,” said Petracca, who pointed to a lack of support from former officials elected within the party.
“Worse yet, the team itself was disunited within the party. Kashkari refused to endorse anybody else who was running on the Republican side for executive office.”
Uhlaner observed patterns in this year’s midterm elections in comparison to other midterm elections in the past.
“It is a usual thing in the President’s party to lose seats and the president’s popularity affects how many seats you lose,” said Uhlaner. “Estimates based on Obama’s 43 percent presidential approval rating was that five seats in the Senate was likely to be lost, so the actual losses are just a little bit more than expected.”
Uhlaner also added that despite rumors, UC Irvine’s turnout rate and the turnout rate of the city matched or sometimes exceeded the state’s turnout rates.
“Some of the candidates in Irvine repeatedly say that people in Irvine aren’t voting, but they are wrong,” said Uhlaner. “The highest turnout rate in Irvine was 64 percent amongst the registered, in University Hills. Graduate student turnout was about 23-24 percent. Irvine citywide was at 40 percent. Undergraduates who live in the dorms was 2-3 percent, but this is expected for 18 to 19 year olds.”
Per the audience’s interest during the question and answer session, the professors also discussed the problems President Obama and the Democrats faced during this election cycle, which contributed to the Republican turnover in Congress.
“What is it about the Democratic side that they were so unable to build on the rising turnout trends that we’ve seen amongst their base? The government shutdown was just a year ago and 65 percent of people blame Republicans for that shutdown,” said Phoenix. “You would have to point to Obama for a kind of aloofness that we did not anticipate given what he was able to campaign on.”
“Obama’s aloofness was also a response to a political environment,” added DeSipio. “Let’s remember that this electorate since 2000 has been as divided as nearly any electorate in American history. That’s a hard situation for any president that fundamentally does not have that many powers.”
DeSipio pointed out the advantages that the Republicans had in this election.
“One thing that the Republicans did very right this time was candidate selection at the House level and at the Senate level,” said DeSipio. “They easily could have taken control of the Senate in either 2010 or 2012 with a different set of candidates. The Republicans very successfully identified candidates who would appeal to their electorate.”
Although the Republicans have gained control of Congress, Petracca discussed the implications of a Republican Congress for the 2016 presidential elections, and the advantage this would pose for the Democratic party.
“Having a unified Republican party not in reality, but for political symbolism purposes, gives [it] Hillary Clinton and other Democrats a nice foil to run against, which takes away somewhat of their responsibility to defend the Obama record,” said Petracca. “It always helps to have a villain, and the Republicans have given the Democrats a villain.”
As votes are still being counted over the next few weeks, the professors encouraged the audience to stay up-to-date with midterm election results through the California Secretary of State’s website: