A panel of Ithaca College faculty members discussed the winners and effects of the recent midterm election, as well as the role the media played in key races, Nov. 12 in Textor 103.
The event was hosted by Raza Rumi, director of the Park Center for Independent Media, and a panel was made up of professors from the college including Carlos Figueroa, assistant professor in the Department of Politics; Thomas Shevory, professor in the Department of Politics; and Allison Frisch, instructor in the Department of Journalism, who analyzed the results of the midterm elections. Approximately 20 people attended the event.
After the midterm election, Democrats won a majority in the House, while the Republicans kept their majority in the Senate. The election also resulted in a large number of women candidates being elected, along with several firsts for the LGBTQ community and people of color.
Figueroa, who votes for the Democratic party, said he thinks the election exemplifies the partisan divide in the United States.
“What first came to mind in terms of the midterm election is the way that this is a fight for the broader narrative for what it means to be an American,” Figueroa said. “This idea that now living in a very partisan society at various levels is something that these elections allowed us to see.”
Despite the division, Figueroa is hopeful because the Democrats now have a majority in the House, which will give them more power than they had for the past two years.
“Because of the results, the divided government that we have now is something that is promising,” Figueroa said. “The Democrats now have real power, not only in subpoenaing power, but also legislative, and I want to see the pushback a little more.”
Shevory said when President Donald Trump was elected, many thought the Republicans would be able to expand their voter base, but that has not happened.
“One of the things about Trump, when he was elected, was that he was going to be a different kind of Republican,” Shevory said. “He was going to transform the Republican Party in such a way as to bring in traditional Democratic voters in the Midwest and that this was going to create a new Republican majority that was different than the Republican Party that existed previously. Trump hasn’t really done anything to foster that realignment. The Republicans made huge advances on the state level in 2010, and the Democrats have started to reverse that in places where Trump was supposed to transform the Republican Party.”
In 2008 and in 2012, Obama won several states in the Midwest, including Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan — all states that Trump won in 2016.
Shevory said it is important to consider many of the referendums that were passed, especially in states that most would see as solidly conservative. Shevory mentioned referendums in red states like Missouri, which passed minimum wage and medicinal marijuana laws, as well as the restoration of voting rights for felons in Florida.
Frisch said she felt that the mainstream media outlets covered the midterm elections as a horse race, while independent media outlets had more substantive coverage.
“I jumped onto cable television news the night of the election, and I watched everyone with their graphics and their maps, and it’s kind of this show of burlesque meant to keep our attention,” Frisch said. “And then I switched over to Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!” She had Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald and folks from The Intercept, and they were around a table and they were actually talking about issues.”
Frisch said mainstream media’s coverage of midterms was standard.
“I do think that the media did a fairly good job of covering some of the voter suppression topics,” Frisch said. “And actually covering the Kemp-Abrams governor race in Georgia, in terms of him being the secretary of state and not recusing himself from the election. But overall, my grade of the mainstream media is pretty low. It’s like a C or C minus. Not as bad 2016 but not good.”
Throughout many states, such as Georgia and North Dakota, instances of voter suppression were reported. In North Dakota, the Republican-controlled legislature implemented voter ID laws — which were approved by the Supreme Court — which require voters to show a form of identification with their current residential street address, which blocked many Native American voters who live on reservations from voting because reservations do not have P.O. boxes. Many of these Native Americans who were blocked from voting in crucial districts for Democrats.
Additionally, over 53,000 voter–registration applications in Georgia — with approximately 70 percent of that being ballots of black voters — are currently on hold as a result of Georgia’s “Exact Match.” Republican Brian Kemp’s office accused the Democratic Party of Georgia of potential cyber crimes in relation to a supposed hacking of the state’s voter registration system while providing no evidence. Kemp recently resigned as Georgia’s secretary of state, where he oversaw the election he had between himself and Democrat Stacey Abrams for the Georgia governorship.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, youth turnout in this midterm election was higher than previous midterms, reaching 31 percent compared to 21 percent in 2014. However, this number is still much lower than the 51 percent of young voters who showed up for the 2016 presidential election.
Figueroa said in response that he was surprised by the large turnout of young people, especially for a midterm election, and the increase in the number of women candidates running.
Shevory said in response that this election was an affirmation that the democratic processes in the United States are still intact.
“A lot of us, including me, when Trump first was elected, were really worried about the cohesion of the basic democratic system, whether it was going to survive somebody who was as destructive as he was,” Shevory said. “I think what this election shows is it’s not the greatest system ever, but it does work relatively well, and it’s going to be maintained, and there’s not going to be a fascist takeover of the United States.”
Senior Anabel Pichardo asked the panelists about what they thought were key issues people who voted in the election should care about moving forward.
Shevory said protecting both the Affordable Care Act and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was implemented by George W. Bush in 2007 and has been scaled back by Trump, are policies Democrats in the House can help protect.
David Kauber, a resident of Aurora, New York, said he thought it was informative to hear the perspective of professionals in Ithaca after only hearing about the election from national sources.
“It’s good to hear people who have backgrounds in communication and political theory and teach this to be talking about this specifically,” Kauber said. “It’s good to hear local people talking about this because I don’t think we get enough of that. I feel a little bit more positive about [the election].”