Red house, blue senate: 5C students, professors react to ‘abnormal’ midterm elections

5C students and faculty respond to Election Day and the results of the US midterms. (Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

Members of the Claremont Colleges joined the rest of the country in casting their votes for the highly anticipated 2022 midterm election. To understand the significance of this quadrennial tradition in the Claremont community, TSL spoke with 5C students and faculty to hear their takes on last week’s election.

In the time leading up to the election, most pundits had been expecting a “red wave” of Republican victories, but Republicans made small gains to take the U.S. House of Representatives Republican  while Democrats held onto the Senate.   

John Pitney, a professor of Politics at Claremont McKenna College, said the midterms confirmed that the quality of candidates mattered greatly to Americans casting their votes. 

An expert on political parties, Pitney referred to the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race as an example of this phenomenon. 

“I used to say sarcastically that one kind of candidate you didn’t want to run was a puppy strangler, and [Republican candidate Mehmet Oz] literally was.”

“I used to say sarcastically that one kind of candidate you didn’t want to run was a puppy strangler, and [Republican candidate Mehmet Oz] literally was,” Pitney said.

For the Georgia U.S. Senate race, he said the same applied, noting how Republican primaries produced what he said were less electable candidates. 

“If the Republicans would have run just about anybody else [for the U.S. Senate race], that person would have won,” Pitney said. 

However, he said Republicans were not the only ones to “fumble” — Democrats did, too, in the failed redistricting of New York state Congressional districts. 

“They wrote an egregious gerrymander that was so bad it got dinged, and there had to be a new set of lines that were much more favorable to the Republicans,” he said. “If the Republicans have a margin of only two or three seats, it’ll be because of New York.”

The election also demonstrated that Americans that voted are largely split in partisan affiliation, said Andrew Busch, Crown Professor of Government, George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College and a scholar of elections. 

Comparing this election to midterm elections in 1978, 1986 and 1990, he said this year was abnormal in its results. 

“What makes it somewhat unusual is the degree of dissatisfaction in the country in comparison to relatively small gains [in the opposition],” Busch said. 

“What makes it somewhat unusual is the degree of dissatisfaction in the country in comparison to relatively small gains [in the opposition].”

Andrew Busch, Crown Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College

He chalked this up to entrenchment with established political parties. 

“It’s a little hard to imagine what it would take to actually move people off of their party,” Busch said. 

In light of the relative lack of Republican success, though, the distance between Florida Governor Ron Desantis and Florida Senator Marco Rubio and their respective Democratic challengers surprised Busch. 

“[They] won by a much bigger margin than I had been anticipating,” he said. 

For the 118th Congress, Busch said that the near-even Republican/Democrat split of the two houses meant it was unlikely there would be a large legislative agenda in line with the Build Back Better Act of the previous Congress. 

“Things are gonna slow down,” he said. 

But in terms of legislative policy, not all is lost, Busch said. 

“People sometimes ignore that when there’s gridlock at the national level, it just leaves open a lot of space for states to do things,” Busch said. 

Every Vote Counts Claremont, a non-partisan voter registration organization, was instrumental in helping students vote, with over 190 students helped by the group’s events, according to club president Olivia Wee CM ’25. Wee began encouraging students to vote after a Veterans of Foreign Wars essay contest. 

“One topic one year was why my vote matters,” she said. “I think it helped me realize that voting is an institution in itself.”

Inspired by the recent state of the country and reading books such as “How Democracies Die,” Wee said the future of the country was at the forefront of her mind.  

To energize people to vote, Wee and Every Vote Counts Claremont made a video with prominent student leaders pledging that they will vote in the election. 

Wee said Every Vote Counts tried to increase awareness about voting through fun events, like “Voterween” for Halloween, that also assisted students in meeting all of the requirements for submitting absentee ballots in different states. 

“For some states, they require witnesses, so one of our staff could be a witness and observe,” Wee said. 

Hailing from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Dede Chapline PO ‘’23 has always found voting important — but her convictions solidified through her Women and Politics in America class this semester, which spent a lot of time discussing the suffrage movement. 

“I want to make Alice Paul proud,” Chapline said via email, referencing the famous suffragist. 

Not all was rosy with Chapline’s voting experience, in part because some of her chosen candidates lost, she said. Furthermore, Chapline spoke about difficulties with casting an absentee ballot in Oklahoma. 

“You have to get your ballot notarized, and you have to pay for postage,” she said.

Chapline said that this can preclude voting by the elderly and disabled. 

“It really discourages voting,” Chapline said. 

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