Commentary

The Election Party Isn’t Over (Yet)

November 14, 2022 7:00 am
election

Despite a general trend of campaigns becoming more candidate-centered races in Indiana defied this movement. (Getty Images)

For many, the week after an election might feel like a bad hangover. You had fun, maybe too much fun, and now you are inundated and overwhelmed with information that can take weeks to properly analyze. Invariably, half of voters may be overjoyed with the affirmation of victory while the other half sulks in sorrowful or even embittered defeat. 

For political scientists, election day is Christmas but the following weeks are just like the day after — you actually get to use the gifts you got. As we assess the results in Indiana, we gain a better understanding of what Hoosiers want (vis-a-vis the ballots they cast) and what they may get in the upcoming legislative session in the new year.

One question that loomed in the minds of many now seems clearly answered. How much would partisanship matter? A lot, as it turns out. Despite a general trend of campaigns becoming more candidate-centered (often exacerbated by an increase of single-issue interest groups and the rise of social media and the 24/7 news cycle), races in Indiana defied this movement.  

Overwhelmingly, partisanship mattered. That is not necessarily a unique feature of this particular election cycle but one which was highlighted because of several races, originally predicted to be competitive, ultimately resulting in blow-outs. 

Sure, the candidates may have been just that good, the campaign strategies ingenious, and the voters positively enamored.  More likely, though, with Republicans retaining their dominance in the statewide executive offices, voters marked the “R” candidate all the way down the ballot. The margins of victory for the Republican candidates in those races, Diego Morales for Secretary of State, Tera Klutz for Auditor, and Daniel Elliott for Treasurer, revealed only slight variations among the three races, at 54%, 60%, and 61%, respectively.

The Secretary of State’s race ended with Morales claiming a 14% margin of victory. Not quite a landslide, it was still a remarkable win in what seemed to be the most interesting race in the state.

The close margins of victory suggest straight-ticket voting was prevalent. Though full official results from the Secretary of State’s office are still forthcoming, the rather insignificant deviations illustrate that party ID is strong. 

What mattered less?  As in many “low information” elections, voters are not always familiar with the office, the candidates, and the issues to make a strong preferential judgment absent the party label that can serve as a convenient (if fallible) proxy for research and knowledge.

How abortion played

One valuable lesson, borne out in competitive, suburban state legislative races, was that party affiliation doesn’t always mean a uniform allegiance to a strong party line. Kyle Walker best exemplifies this with his solid victory over Democratic challenger Jocelyn Vare in SD 31. An expensive race, campaign ads centered on the issue of extremism, a claim that Walker could easily challenge with his well-publicized stance against the Indiana abortion bill that he opposed for being too restrictive, a rare outlier in his party. 

Taking a stronger stance, Republican challenger Alex Choi explained his position on abortion as “decisions concerning pregnancy are between a woman and her healthcare provider.” Choi lost in a close race to Democratic incumbent J.D. Ford in SD 29. Republican challenger Mark Small positioned himself similarly as a moderate Republican in HD 86 but lost in a landslide to incumbent Democrat Ed Delaney. 

Considering both of these factors in tandem, one could expect to see an upcoming legislative session with continued party struggles, as representatives balance the will of their voters with their own preferences and those of their party. Arguably, this precarious exercise epitomizes politics but nowhere does it matter more than at a time where highly salient and divisive issues, like abortion, crime, and legalization among others, are on the agenda.

For the 2023 session of the Indiana General Assembly, the impact of partisan politics and the diversity of opinion within it will be a driving force the legislation that is ultimately successful.

For future elections, moderate candidates who can survive the more polarized primaries provide an invaluable role in policy, countering the more ideologically extreme sides of the parties that often dominate the conversation and decisions. Indianapolis has local elections next year and hopefuls are already announcing their candidacies. Lower level races may not capture the hearts and minds of voters but they can be remarkably effective at revealing both the power and limitations of the party label.  The 2022 state races in Indiana exemplify it.

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Laura Merrifield Wilson
Laura Merrifield Wilson

Laura Merrifield Wilson, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis. She specializes in the study of political behavior, state and local government, and campaigns and elections. She earned her PhD, MA, and MPA from the University of Alabama and her MA and AB Honors from Ohio University. She is a regular political commentator and analyst.

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