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Winners of the 2022 Election Cycle

We've been trying to get to this for weeks, and now the day has finally arrived. Better late than never, as we often say. And so, with the benefit of a bit of time to reflect, here are our 10 biggest winners of the latest election cycle (in no particular order):

  1. Democracy: OK, we just said this list isn't ranked, but this is clearly the most important item. So, consider this to be the gold medal winner, with the other items in a nine-way tie for silver. While the 2020 election was pretty grim for democracy, the 2022 election spoke to democracy's resiliency. UCLA's Rick Hasen, who has been loudly sounding the alarm via his blog and any media outlet that will print his op-eds, wrote this after the ballots had been counted:
    For the last two years, I have been writing about my grave concerns over the future of American democracy. With developments over the last week, culminating on Monday night with the loss of election denier Kari Lake for governor in the key swing state of Arizona, I'm a little less worried. If we were two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock before last week's midterm elections, we are now back to 10 minutes to midnight.
    The good news comes in at least three flavors. First, the election itself was conducted successfully without violence, intimidation, or other such shenanigans. Second, as Hasen notes, voters rejected election deniers like Kari Lake. Yes, a few got elected to the House in ruby-red districts, but most of the high-profile ones—Lake, Doug Mastriano, Don Bolduc, Tim Michaels, etc.—were sent packing. That includes, importantly, all the election-denying would-be secretaries of state. Third, outside of the nutters in Arizona, the defeated candidates accepted their losses gracefully, and went gentle into that good night.

    On the ballot-initiative front, the news was largely, though not uniformly, good. Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring 9 days of early voting, prepaid envelopes for absentee ballots, and a ballot-tracking system, while Connecticut approved in-person early voting, something it didn't have before. Two other states decided whether or not to have voter ID laws; Nebraskans said "yes" and Arizonans said "no." Ohio backed a constitutional amendment prohibiting noncitizens from voting in local elections.

  2. Ranked-Choice Voting: Ranked-choice voting serves to counter the intense polarization of politics in two ways. The first is the obvious one: It favors candidates who have consensus support over extreme candidates. With the eyes of the nation upon the state, Alaskans chose for their congressional delegation a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat, while rejecting MAGA Republicans in both races.

    The less obvious, though still foreseeable, effect, is on the conduct of the campaigns. Reader S.C. in Mountain View, CA, is an expert in RCV and explains:
    RCV discourages negative campaigning because in order to win, a candidate might need to be ranked second or third by supporters of their opponents. (It doesn't eliminate such campaigning entirely because, first of all, old habits die hard and, second, if you're behind a clear front-runner who will make it to the last round, their supporters' votes will never go to their second choices so you can get away with attacking them because it doesn't matter if they rank you or not.)

    This positive effect was observed by The New York Times during San Francisco's first election using RCV in 2004. Three hopefuls for a single seat campaigned cooperatively, in the hopes that one of them would win.

    While it didn't result in one of them winning in that case, in a more recent example three candidates for an Oakland City Council seat in 2018 put out a joint video where they each praised the attributes of another. In this case, it was successful, and one of them did win the seat. (An examination of the transfers showed that the winner was definitely helped by being ranked second or third by supporters of her two cooperating opponents.)

    This effect is not unexpected; it is an acknowledged feature of RCV.
    Thanks for the insight, S.C.!

    In addition to the successful use of RCV in Alaska, November's balloting saw Nevada adopt RCV. The Silver State will use a system very much like Alaska's, except with the top five candidates advancing to the final round of voting, rather than the top four.

  3. Abortion Rights: Three states had an up-or-down vote on whether the right to an abortion should be added to the state Constitution, thus putting it outside the reach of any future state legislature that might frown on the procedure. It passed in all three—California, Michigan, and Vermont. Kentucky, meanwhile, had a reverse initiative, one that would have banned abortion in the state. It was defeated. Montana had a screwball measure on the ballot that would have required health workers to provide medical care for an infant born in the state, even after an abortion. The local medical association was wildly against it. It went down 52% to 48%.

    Put briefly, it was a clean sweep for abortion rights, in both red states and blue. And don't forget that the number of states jumps to six if you include the ballot initiative that Kansans voted on in the primaries. Exactly what Republicans will do with this information... well, it will be interesting to see. On one hand, the base wants things restricted even more, and will surely expect some bills in that direction from the current House. On the other hand, abortion restrictions are a loser with just about everyone else. This will not be easy for Republicans in swingy places to navigate.

  4. Abolitionists: William Lloyd Garrison died in 1879, Frederick Douglass in 1895. They would probably be surprised to learn that the fight against slavery is still ongoing more than 150 years after the Civil War, but it is. As we have pointed out numerous times, the Thirteenth Amendment says: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Put another way, you can't enslave someone... unless they are convicted of a crime. And thanks to that, prison systems across the country often work their inmates very hard while paying them a pittance, or else rent them out to private companies, who... wait for it... pay the inmates a pittance for their labor. We're talking wages—5, 10, 15 cents an hour—that would have been pretty meager even in Garrison's and Douglass' time.

    Citizens of several states decided, in past elections, that they did not care for that arrangement, and so barred the treatment of convicts as slaves. This cycle, five states voted whether or not to join the list, and four of them—Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont—did so. The only state to retain slavery was Louisiana, and that was partly because the ballot proposition was poorly written and was denounced by... the guy who wrote it. So, the Pelican State is expected to have another go at the question in 2024.

  5. Marijuana: Marijuana didn't do quite as well as abortion rights or abolitionism; Maryland and Missouri legalized it, while Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota refused to do so. Still, the latter three states just maintained the status quo. Meanwhile, the former two decided that their millions of adult citizens can make their own choices about the wacky tobaccy without interference from state authorities. More than half the states have now dropped all prohibitions on marijuana use, or have at least decriminalized the drug. Meanwhile, there are only four states left where the use of marijuana and/or its derivatives (e.g., CBD) is illegal in all circumstances: Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas and South Carolina. The day is not far off when ganja will be legal nationwide.

  6. Joe Biden: Biden's big win was limiting defeat. Many people were predicting a bloodbath on Nov. 8. It didn't happen. Democrats picked up a seat in the Senate and almost held the House. It was a result that went completely against historical trends—and in a terrible environment for the Democrats, to boot. Legislatively, he also had a surprisingly good year, with an infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, the Infrastructure Reduction Act, same-sex marriage, and more. On foreign policy, he has held together a coalition to fight Russia to a standstill in Ukraine, despite Russia having a vastly bigger and more powerful army. Had the election been a red wave, Biden would have looked more and more like a one-term-and-out kind of president. Now, the decks are clear for him to run again in 2024.

  7. Gretchen Whitmer: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) was one of the Republicans' top targets. Yet, she crushed Trump-endorsed Tudor Dixon (R) by over 10 points. If Biden does decline to run in 2024, she could be one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination. It is her bad luck that if Biden runs, he is stuck with Kamala Harris as his #2. Black women, the Democrats' most loyal constituency, would be furious if he dumped Harris for a white woman, even though Harris ran a terrible campaign in 2020 and hasn't done a lot to improve her standing since then. Whitmer is only 51, though, and has a bright future in Democratic politics, even if 2024 is not when her number gets called.

  8. Ron DeSantis: As 2022 started, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was a rising star in the Republican Party. Now, some polls show him the favorite to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. How's that for a good year? His election victory by a landslide margin was practically unheard of in the mother of all swing states. He was in the news all the time in 2022. But now comes the hard part: hanging onto his new status as a Republican superstar.

  9. Wes Moore: Most election cycles propel one or two previously little-known politicians to national prominence, as happened with Barack Obama in 2004, John Kasich in 2010, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) in 2014, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) in 2018, etc. At the moment, Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D-MD) appears to be the shooting star of this cycle. He's young, charismatic and Black, and he should have no problem getting reelected if he wants to spend 8 years building his power base. We would be surprised if a presidential run isn't in Moore's future, though he might plausibly decide to take a shot for the Senate first.

  10. Pollsters: Given that the pollsters dropped the ball on Donald Trump in 2016, and then blew it in a number of high-profile races in 2018, the industry was on the ropes entering 2020. If they had stepped in it again, that might have been a near-fatal blow for many/most polling houses. And unfortunately for them, the modern political landscape presents very tricky challenges, like what to do about Trump voters who won't answer their phones, or what to do about millennials who won't answer their phones, or what to do about suburban women who won't answer their phones.

    However, despite the possibility of pollster armageddon, they overall did very well in 2022, as we discussed in great detail here. Yes, there were a bunch of junk polls from a bunch of junk pollsters, but those are easy to ignore. Certainly, we did.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the 10 biggest losers in the 2022 election cycle. (Z & V)

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