In the buildup to the midterm elections, nothing garnered more attention than the much-ballyhooed “blue wave” being sold by many politicos. It was hard to tell whether they truly believed this prediction or it was a tactical move, a self-fulfilling prophecy, as if the more they talked it up, the more the masses would get on board and make it a reality. As human nature would lead us to expect after any competition that lacks a definite winner and loser, both sides rushed to claim victory. They also applauded the high voter turnout rate. Unfortunately, this phenomenon often has an effect opposite to the outcome they are trying to elicit -- overinterpreting the strength of one or the other party’s performance after the election will discourage turnout the next time.
Much of the excitement about turnout in the wake of the midterm elections drew on the highly touted statistic that the voting rate of 18- to 29-year-olds increased by an unprecedented 2 percent in comparison with the last midterm. Hardly mentioned, however, was the fact that even with such an increase, the same generation with the largest growth in turnout still had the lowest percentage. Because media outlets are selectively using statistics to make their political sides look better, they actually lull voters into a false sense of security. If those on the left hope to make a difference in the 2020 presidential election, they need to be less afraid to be honest.
There is no better example of this danger of producing apathy than the 2016 election. Most major media outlets were convinced there was no way Donald Trump could win. Their coverage gave the impression that there was no point in people showing up at the polls because the outcome was preordained. I personally know many people who were going to vote, but decided not to since “the election was already decided.”
The only way to truly combat this is to stay informed of the facts. Given the inordinate amount of misinformation we are deluged with every day, this is easier said than done. One example is Joy Behar explaining to her millions of viewers that “Republicans were able to pick up seats in the Senate by gerrymandering,” as if it were somehow possible to alter state boundaries. It is also worth understanding the meaning of election outcomes more clearly by seeing past the hype. Those who are saying the “blue wave” last week was a historic leap for the left should know that since World War ll, the incumbent president’s party has lost an average of 37 House seats in its first midterm, plus seats in the Senate. In fact, Bill Clinton’s first midterm saw a total of 60 House and Senate seats switch to the other party, and Barack Obama lost a total of 69 seats. Taking into account the Senate seats picked up by Republicans (only the third time in more than a century that this has happened for the president’s party in a first midterm), the net “blue wave” will be well under 40 seats. And none of this even addresses the fact that the Democrats lost more than 1,000 congressional and state legislative seats under Obama.
It would be lovely to think that we, as a country, could learn some lessons from the misleading coverage and commentary in 2016 and 2018. I am skeptical, however. Judging by the public response I have seen, in person and on social media, it looks like the only way out of this circular firing squad is for all of us to be better informed, and to start being more honest with ourselves, by thinking past the simplistic cliches we often hear about elections.