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Post-Election Round-Up: What Happened and What Does it Mean for Student Affairs?

November 8, 2018 Diana Ali Assistant Director of Policy Research and Advocacy

No matter your political affiliation, there was much to celebrate in Tuesday’s midterms, which resulted in increasing diversity of our nation’s elected officials, seven state gubernatorial races (so far) flipping from Republican to Democrat, an increased Republican majority in the Senate, and a Democratic takeover in the House. If your interest in policy work is more issue-based, you may be searching for the answers to what this all means now that results are in. How does a night of history-making play out on the ground, and how will these state and federal results impact local higher education communities? Let’s dig into some of the outcomes, including early indications of record voter turnout on college campuses, to provide insight into these questions.

Voter Turnout

Across the country, we’ve witnessed a resurgence in political awareness and activity since the 2016 national elections. That awareness was translated into action at the polls with nearly half of eligible voters casting ballots in the 2018 elections. Given that typical midterm election turnout is closer to a third of eligible voters, Tuesday’s elections represent the highest proportion of the electorate to turn out for a midterm since 1966 and the highest ever number of voters casting ballots - the first time we’ve exceeded 100 million voters for a midterm election.  Indeed, activity at the polls approached that of the 2016 Presidential election, when 57% of eligible voters cast ballots.

Possibly driving the increase, youth voter turnout in the age bracket of 18-29 has been projected to have increased more than any other voting age group since our last midterms in 2014, which NPR reports had the lowest rates of youth voter turnout in the last 40 years. In preliminary findings from our colleagues at CIRCLE, roughly 31% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm, an increase of 10 percentage points over day-after estimates from the 2014 midterm.

Chart showing Historical Midterm Youth Turnout Estimate by Data Source (1994-2018)

To access this untapped potential, NASPA’s LEAD Initiative in collaboration with Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) worked to provide campus administrators with resources and tools to promote civic engagement efforts on campuses across the country. NASPA Public Policy Division Region II Representative Krista Saleet, Director of Cornell Universities Public Service Center, described this work in a blog post last month. While official data won’t be available for a few weeks, youth voter turnout seems to have been especially high in key states with projected election toss-ups such as those in Georgia, Texas, and Florida.

Toward a More Perfect Union: Increasing Diversity

The results of the 2018 midterm elections saw a record number of diverse candidates succeed in races at all levels. In particular, women of color made remarkable gains in 2018. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) becoming the first Muslim women elected to Congress, Ayanna Pressley elected as the first Black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, and the success of Congress’s first Native American women from New Mexico, Deb Haaland (D), and Kansas, Sharice Davids (D).  Lou Leon Guerrero (D) was elected as the first female governor for the US territory of Guam.

While there is still far to go to make our governing bodies reflect the population of our country as a whole, the addition of 12 women to the US House of Representatives, breaking the record of 84 women in the current Congress represents real progress toward equality of representation by women in Congress. Additionally, Politico reports that both Maine and South Dakota elected their first female governors, and Tennessee elected their first female Senator. Nevada also joins California, Washington, New Hampshire, and Minnesota in having both their Senators be women.

Mandela Barnes, running mate of Tony Evers (D-WI), will be Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor and Jared Polis (D-CO) will be the first openly gay man to serve as a state governor. Additionally, dozens of other Democratic candidates for municipal and state offices made history this year, including trans candidates who won races in four states, and a Black mayor elected for the first time in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Gubernatorial and State Results

Governors elected on Tuesday will have greater influence on state policy than usual, overseeing decisions related to mandatory redistricting following the 2020 Census, as previously described by NASPA director of policy research and advocacy, Teri Lyn Hinds. Further, Inside Higher Ed notes the important role that Governors play in higher education through appropriations allocation and the appointment of educational oversight and governing board members. Of the seven states that flipped to Democratic Governors, four (Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico) have full control of the governorship and may appoint the chief state school officer or board of education.

A number of newly-elected governors have strong platforms around improving higher education initiatives. Examples noted in the Inside Higher Ed articled linked above include: J.B. Pritzker’s (D-IL) pledge to improve state-based student financial aid, Jared Polis’s (D-CO) platform on improving education funding oversight through the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Bill Lee’s (R-TN) plan to increase an emphasis on vocational education in rural areas, Tony Evers (D-WI) pledge to reverse higher education budget cuts under former Governor Scott Walker, and Andrew Cuomo’s (D-NY) plan for free college access.

A number of states passed key higher education policy ballot measures as well. Massachusetts upheld a trans and gender non-binary inclusive initiative to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public facilities. Seattle passed a free college initiative, and Maine, Montana, New Jersey, and New Mexico all passed initiatives to increase institutional infrastructure.

Initiatives to combat gerrymandering and provide neutral oversight for redistricting were on the ballot in four states: Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah; all four initiatives were approved. Voters in Florida overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amendment 4, which will restore the right to vote to over 1.5 million Floridians with a past felony conviction. Unfortunately, anomalies and unexpected disruptions in Georgia have brought forward a continuing conversation around voter suppression and electoral politics. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, precincts for two historically black colleges, Morehouse and Spelman, extended voting hours until 10pm following complaints involving registered students missing from voter rolls.

Eye on 116th Congress

With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, Representative Bobby Scott, known for his commitment to K-12 education and the dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act, will become chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, giving Democrats the opportunity to hold hearings and issue subpoenas to staff in the Department of Education. This shift in party control may place extra pressure on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who may now be held accountable in public hearings for continued measures aimed at loosening oversight initiatives of predatory for-profit institutions, and upon the release of a Title IX notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) expected to be published in the Federal Register soon.

It is likely that the Senate HELP Committee, under the final term of leadership by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) due to Republican term limits on Committee chairs, will draft legislation to reauthorize HEA. Traditionally the more bipartisan of the two chambers, and knowing that any bill from the Senate will need to pass in the now-Democrat controlled House, Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) have incentive to advance a bipartisan bill during the 116th Congress. Republicans in the Senate, broadly, are likely to continue to focus on judicial appointments and providing a check on any desire of the Democrat-controlled House to increase scrutiny or enact policies to slow down policies supported by the White House. 

With so many races on the ballot, it’s impossible for us to capture them all in a single post. What results from the 2018 midterm elections caught your attention? Let us know on Twitter using the #Saadvocates hashtag!