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Midterm Update: Gen-Z Voters Help Hold Off Red Wave, Republicans Narrowly Win House

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More than a week after polls closed in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Republicans have finally crossed the 218 vote threshold needed to reclaim the House of Representatives, the Associated Press announced late Wednesday. The victory comes after two years of a narrow Democratic trifecta and is tempered by a weak performance that has bucked decades of electoral history and prompted accusations within GOP ranks. Going into election night, Republicans were optimistic about a “red wave” that ultimately failed to materialize—in part because of a boost in turnout by Generation Z voters. 

At the center of the debate is whether former President Donald Trump’s elevation of candidates who amplified his false claims of election fraud cost Republicans control of the upper chamber. In Pennsylvania, Trump’s endorsement of television personality Mehmet Oz, who lost to Democrat John Fetterman, has particularly attracted the ire of GOP leaders and strategists who had viewed a win in the state as critical to recapturing the senate majority. 

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fended off a leadership challenge from Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott in a closed-door vote. Scott and other Republicans had blamed McConnell for the party’s underperformance, although Scott himself also faced criticism for his leadership of the National Republican Senatorial Committee—the party’s campaign arm, which was responsible for winning back the majority. 

The debate over Trump’s continued sway within the party was escalated by his announcement of a third run for president on Tuesday night, a move that many senior Republican officials had urged him to delay. While Republicans now hold a razor-thin majority in the House, Democrats have secured control of the Senate regardless of the outcome of the Georgia Senate Runoff between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Hershel Walker, scheduled for December 6. 

Gen-Z Voting Surged Nationally, but Did More Swarthmore Students Turn Out?

On Swarthmore’s campus, a steady stream of voters registered on campus made their way to polling places last Tuesday. Nationally, sources have reported a surge in turnout among Generation Z. According to early exit polling, 1 in 8 voters was under thirty years old, and more than half of those supported Democratic candidates. While Gen-Z  support for Democrats runs well ahead of Republicans, it appears to have dropped off slightly since the 2018 midterm elections, according to exit polling and data from AP Votecast.

Since Pennsylvania election officials have yet to certify Tuesday’s results, it’s unclear to what extent student turnout at Swarthmore tracked with that trend. Out of the approximately 550 students registered at 500 College Avenue, an estimated 60% either voted in person or by mail, according to pollbook data collected by Swarthmore Borough Council Member Sarah Graden. Once votes in Delaware County are certified, the updated voting history of students registered at the college will become publicly available. Estimates of voter turnout among students registered at their home addresses will likely be more challenging to obtain. 

According to estimates from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), student voting rates at Swarthmore have swung considerably between midterm and presidential contests. In 2018, an estimated 66% of eligible registered students cast ballots, compared to 85% in the 2020 presidential election. Notably, President Valerie Smith announced the cancellation of classes on election day in 2020, but resisted calls to do so again this year or to establish an election holiday despite calls from students and The Phoenix’s Editorial Board. 

In an all-campus email sent on Oct. 20,  Smith encouraged students to exercise their civic responsibility by voting, but did not address the possibility of canceling classes or cite reasoning for the inconsistency between the decision in 2020 and this year’s midterm elections. Her message came amid decisions by a growing number of colleges and universities to suspend classes during both presidential and midterm elections. The college did, however, decide to update their Election Day Leave Policy for staff members, authorizing supervisors to allow employees up to three hours of paid time off to vote. 

Democrats Win Pennsylvania House, Ending Era of GOP Control

In Harrisburg, Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by the slimmest of margins after Democrat Melissa Cerrato appeared to lead incumbent Republican Rep. Todd Stephens by 37 votes. While 59 provisional ballots remain uncounted in the race, they would have to overwhelmingly break for Stephens to change the result. 

Democrats now hold at least 102 of the chamber’s 203 seats, while Republicans have won 101. Despite their one-seat majority, efforts to convene the legislature could be complicated by a number of factors. First, Democratic Representative Tony DeLuca died in October after ballots had already been finalized but was still posthumously re-elected in his Democratic-leaning district. Second, Representatives Summer Lee and Austin Davis have just been elected to higher office—as U.S. Representative and Lieutenant Governor, respectively—creating temporary vacancies until special elections determine their replacements. This could mean that, despite their on-paper majority, House Democrats will only be able to seat 99 members once Lee and Davis resign, fewer than the GOP’s 101. 

While Democrats’ efforts to flip the State Senate came up short, their win in the Pennsylvania House marked a substantial setback for Republicans, who had held a 23-seat majority going into election night. Overall, Democrats wrested control of twelve seats, defeating four Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs, winning four open seats previously held by Republicans, and picking up seats in three districts that were created through 2022 redistricting.

With Democrat Josh Shapiro’s win in the governor race, Pennsylvania Democrats will now have a greater ability to steer the state’s legislative agenda after three decades of nearly-interrupted Republican control of both chambers. 

Meanwhile, on the national level, a divided congress likely spells more partisan stalemate as leaders in both chambers are forced to compromise ambitious agendas. 

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