‘Voters are smarter than the media’: The pundit class misjudged the American people
For weeks, the political-industrial complex has been persuaded that these 2022 midterm elections would be a bloodbath for democracy, a “red wave”– or better yet, a “red tsunami” – crashing into America. “Here is the problem with elections: when they break, they usually break in one direction. And right now, all the indicators on my political dashboard are flashing red — like in, toward Republicans,” Blake Hounshell wrote on on October 19 in the New York Timesthe flagship political bulletin of . Guess what? Not only was the dashboard not flashing red, it was flashing blue. Hounshell wasn’t alone, so dark securities in Axios and Politico and elsewhere marked the fate of the Democrats.
But that’s not what happened. Voters rejected undemocratic candidates for secretary of state, as well as predictions about what interests them most ahead of the polls. Perhaps representative Ruben Gallego summed it up nicely when he texted me, “Voters are smarter than the media.” Indeed, just about anything the media suggested voters didn’t care about, they cared passionately about. At the exit of the polls, 76% of Democrats said abortion was one of the five issues that mattered most to them. Voters cared about abortion despite being told that “Abortion may not be the problem it used to be” and that “polls show Americans don’t care that much Dobbs– and will not base their vote on it.”
The voters thoroughly rejected autocracy, overthrowing each of donald trumpsecretary of state candidates, each of whom ran on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. One of the few Holocaust deniers who won has been Diego Morales in Indiana, which is hardly a swing state. Trump’s grand plan for 2024 to install loyalists in critical campaign posts in swing states has been chastised by voters. Anti-democratic funders like the guy from MyPillow, Mike Lindel, and the guy from Overstock, Patrick Byrne, burned their cash.
Not only did the media misjudge the electorate, they also underestimated the president Jo Biden. Listen, I went there myself. Almost three years ago I wrote an editorial for The Washington Post Or I obnoxiously written, “I don’t want to get too technical about it, but I would posit that the Democratic frontrunner should be, you know, up front.” Biden won South Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Arizona shortly after my play aired. In the end, Biden won 2,687 delegates in the Democratic primary, crushing the rest of the field. Biden then sued to beat Trump 306 to 232 in the Electoral College (and by more than 7 million in the popular vote). Biden won the critical swing states of Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
But wait, there’s more! From the White House, Biden presided over a consecutive midterm where Democrats bucked historic trends by keeping the Senate — and possibly securing a seat if Raphael Warnock wins Georgia’s second round next month, while accumulating state-level victories and keep the House majority fight competitive (even if Republicans are expected to secure a narrow majority).
Throughout the midterms, the media mocked Biden with speeches focused on democracy and the rejection of fascism. TV broadcast networks jumped up his first speech of the series, in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, opting instead to air game shows and reruns. “They refuse to accept the results of a free election”, Biden said in September from the MAGA wing of the GOP. “And they are working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give the power to decide elections in America to supporters and cronies, allowing election deniers to undermine democracy itself. “
In Biden’s second speech, delivered in Washington, DC, days before the midterms, he recalled the disturbing hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, where a deranged man broke into the Pelosi residence shouting “Where’s Nancy?” – the same thing that the rioters shouted on January 6th. It was a powerful pro-democracy message that apparently resonated with voters, if not political reporters who seemed convinced the awards outweighed all other concerns. CNN Chris Cillizza called the speech “scratch your headthinking that, “The problem for Biden is that voters are not tied to this threat. Or, they see it take a back seat to more pressing day-to-day concerns, particularly related to their economic well-being. Once again, the expert class had misjudged the voters.
I asked the White House chief of staff Ron Klein about this chronic case of Biden underestimation. Klain wrote: “He was underrated as a candidate, as a president and as a party leader – and he delivered historic results in all three roles. As a candidate, he defeated previously undefeated Donald Trump; as president, he introduced critical legislation with the narrowest margins on Capitol Hill; and now, as party leader, he has achieved a midterm result unmatched since FDR’s days. He does this by exposing what he stands for, striving hard to do so, and speaking sincerely from the heart. He has held the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party together, built an administration that looks like the country, and pursued policies that inspire young voters, middle-aged voters and older voters. President Biden is underrated because his triumphs are the triumph of wisdom, decency, and determination: values undervalued in today’s media and political culture.
But it’s not just that voters voted for democracy and abortion rights, they also rejected some of Republicans’ most disgusting culture warfare tropes. Conservative groups reportedly spent more than $50 million targeting transgender people. Voters had absolutely no interest in bullying LGBTQ+ people. The GOP hammered home the idea that Biden’s policies caused inflation, but evidently many voters noticed that inflation was a global problem. Take a look at the Brexit-crushed UK (13.2%) and autocrat-ruled Russia (13.7%).
For the most part, journalists covered the issue of inflation without pressuring GOP politicians on what their own solutions would be, assuming voters concerned about “the economy” were just going to jump to the GOP. In fairness, the Republican Party has some anti-inflationary policy ideas, but they’re not popular: cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and crush unions.
The political-industrial media complex was wrong. You can blame the polls for some of the wrong predictions; Trafalgar, for its part, flooded the area with junky partisan polls. But much of what happened is more like groupthink that happens when you try to make a guess about too little information. Journalists, myself included, need to spend more time thinking about the country we are writing about and less time trying to make the country we are writing about is what we want it to be.