In the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, The Chronicle took a look at how Duke students are reacting to a new political landscape. Democrats will retain the Senate, while the Republicans will take over a majority in the House of Representatives.
Students across campus expressed varying views on the results of the election, with differing focuses and takeaways from the midterms.
Important issues to students
Inflation, preserving democracy, abortion and crime were some of the most-campaigned about issues, and were important to Duke students as well.
“I think the abortion issue is really on the top of my mind … It's really important that we protect a woman's right to choose,” senior Zak Steinhauser said.
First-year Olivia Schramkowski echoed this sentiment, saying “gun violence prevention and abortion were definitely two topics that I was passionate about.”
Differences in backgrounds and local politics were additional factors in motivating students to vote.
Sophomore and North Carolina resident Akhilesh Shivaramakrishnan said he wanted to vote because of the school board elections in his county.
“The school board my senior year was in charge of everything in terms of COVID policy in our county, and it was really frustrating to see how some members handled that,” Shivaramakrishnan said. “One of my main motivations for voting this year was to try to ensure that the school board candidates in my home county were better than the ones that we had.”
First-year Jordan Phillips, a South Dakota resident, was also motivated to vote because of the political landscape in her home state.
“I was really concerned about who the governor of South Dakota was, which is why I voted,” Phillips said.
Although Phillips said that she tends to lean conservative, she has concerns about incumbent Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican.
“She has been focused a lot on the national political scene and hasn't spent a lot of time in the state of South Dakota. She just doesn't necessarily represent the values within the state,” she said.
Were the results surprising?
Some students expected a “red wave” to sweep across the country.
“I was surprised, because the buzz was that Republicans were going to have a landslide red wave victory. And it did not really materialize,” Steinhauser said. “I was pleasantly surprised that the polls were wrong and that the pundits were wrong.”
Shivaramakrishnan echoed a similar sentiment.
“Honestly, I did expect more of a red wave but I'm really glad that it panned out the way it did,” he said.
Schramkowski is politically engaged in Georgia, which gave her a unique perspective on the election.
“I assumed that Brian Kemp was going to win over Stacey Abrams,” Schramkowski said. “I think for a lot of other people, it was a shock. But working in politics, I kind of saw that coming.”
Effect on America’s future
There is a new young voting bloc emerging, the impact of which Duke students appreciated.
“We did see progress in some places, especially in terms of youth turnout. In a lot of places there was historic turnout,” Schramkowski said.
In his home county, Shivaramakrishnan was pleased with the amount of youth engagement in his county school board election.
“I think a lot of younger people in my county, especially those that just reached voting age, recognized how important that specific ballot was,” Shivaramakrishnan said.
Despite the fact that Democrats will remain in control of the Senate, a runoff election in Georgia between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Hershel Walker will take place on Dec. 6.
Schramkowski, a Georgia resident and Democrat, is extremely interested in the runoff and understands its implications for the Senate.
“For the Senate, anytime we can get above that 50/50 margin is really important,” Schramkowski said. “Herschel Walker has no experience in politics whatsoever, and it would be very dangerous for the state of Georgia if he were to come to power.”
Political polarization has become an increasingly important issue in these elections.
“I feel slightly better because I think more decorum is coming back to politics,” Criner said.
Steinhauser and Phillips are unsure if the midterms will have a large impact on the state of the country moving forward due to the lingering presence of polarization.
“I think, on a national scale, the biggest frustrations that we see with folks has to do more with political extremism and political rhetoric, rather than massive policy changes,” Phillips said.
“So many political things are happening within the United States right now that aren't necessarily dictated by elections — like Supreme Court rulings. Because of that, individuals are really angry, and it's adding fuel to a political extremism fire that certainly wasn't fixed by this election,” she said.
Citing Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s refusal to concede in her loss to Katie Hobbs, Steinhauser was hesitant about the long-term impacts of the midterm elections.
“I think that it's yet to be seen if there's going to be an actual impact on stabilizing our democratic institutions,” he said.
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