2022 Midterm Election Analysis

November 10, 2022

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With votes still to count in a handful of Senate and House races that will determine party control of both chambers, Tuesday’s midterm elections results were a far from cry from the Republican “red wave” pundits were predicting. With the results amplifying the divide throughout our country, expect gridlock to continue in our nation’s capital. Yet, on the issue of America’s role in the world – while we certainly see challenges – the 118th Congress will kickoff full of champions and friends on both sides of the aisle.

USGLC’s SmartVote 2022

For the USGLC, this election was never about a blue or a red “wave”, but rather a dedicated effort to engage candidates on how global stability impacts America’s stability. Since 2008, the USGLC has led a nationwide education initiative to meet with candidates running for federal office to talk about the importance of America’s global leadership and the impact of global issues here at home.

Our SmartVote 2022 candidate engagement campaign was no exception, and USGLC is proud to have galvanized our network of local business, veteran, faith, and community  leaders from across the country. These leaders met face-to-face with more than 360 candidates and campaigns for the House and Senate – an unprecedented volume of engagement – to discuss how diplomacy and development impacts America’s economic and security interests.

Our team and community leaders held many terrific meetings, with strong champions returning to Capitol Hill and many new friends who will be joining them in January. In fact, our coalition will welcome our first-ever United States Senator, who previously served on a USGLC State Advisory Committee.

Read on for our post-election report based on conversations with candidates and their teams along with our analysis of what the election results mean for U.S. diplomacy and global development issues.

Top Election Takeaways

As Washington prepares for a new and likely divided government, here are our top election takeaways when it comes to America’s global leadership:

1. Americans felt global disruptions, but prioritized economic and other domestic issues.

While global disruptions – from energy and supply chain issues to the food and fertilizer crisis – impacted every American family’s budget throughout this year’s election season, voters’ focus at the ballot box was clearly on domestic issues.

EXIT POLLS: As Americans reeled from rising inflation and high prices from the gas pump to the grocery store, national exit polls made it clear that voters prioritized inflation along with the issue of abortion and concerns about democracy. Not surprisingly, much less attention and debate time was spent on foreign policy and how global instability is impacting Americans at home.

GLOBAL CONNECTION: At the same time, mid-cycle polling showed that Americans still connect global and domestic issues. In an April poll, even before food prices surged higher, voters pointed to global factors as three of the top five reasons for increasing food costs – including supply chain disruptions, COVID-19, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Expect these issues to impact lawmakers when they return to governing.

2. The threat posed by China and Russia was the top global issue on the campaign trail.

Despite the prioritization of the domestic agenda, one significant exception is that both candidates and voters clearly see a global threat posed by China and Russia.

CHINA FOCUS: Reflecting one area of bipartisan consensus on the campaign trail, Republican and Democratic candidates continued to tap into voters’ attitudes towards the global competition with China.

  • Pew polling prior to the elections revealed that 82% of Americans have an unfavorable view of China – a more than 30 point shift over the last 5 years.
  • On the campaign trail, candidates often jumped at the chance to accuse their opponent of being “weak on China.” These attacks took place not only between parties, but within the parties during the primaries.
  • Interestingly, in the nine most competitive senate races, more than 80% of the candidates addressed the issue of China directly in their campaign platforms or on the debate stage.

RUSSIA THREATS: From late February through the summer months, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a high profile and unifying issue on the campaign trail for candidates on both sides of the aisle.

  • Candidates from across the political spectrum weighed in loudly expressing their solidarity with the Ukrainian people and calling for America to support its European ally.
  • As the war escalated, incumbents took time off from the campaign trail to lead trips to Ukraine and strong bipartisan bills passed Congress to rush emergency assistance to the region.
  • As examples, Senator-elect Ted Budd (R-NC) told the press he was “proud to support” aid to “help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s aggression.” After returning from a delegation to eastern Europe, Senator-elect Peter Welch (D-VT) stated he was committed to “do all we can to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

CLOSING ARGUMENTS: By the fall, some Republican fissures began to emerge with populist voices starting to question the amount of U.S. support to Ukraine, particularly as domestic economic pressures increased. Republican leadership in the House and Senate offered differing perspectives in the final weeks of the election:

  • Leader Kevin McCarthy started raising questions on the future of U.S. aid to Ukraine but in the weekend before the election he stated “I’m very supportive of Ukraine… it means… [not a blank check, but] make sure that resources are going to where it is needed.”
  • Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in with a strong statement that the U.S. and our allies “need to do more to supply the tools Ukraine needs to thwart Russian aggression” adding that it would take not just security assistance but also “humanitarian and economic support to help this war-torn country endure the coming winter.”

3. Returning champions central for bolstering internationalist leadership in Congress.

While chamber control is still being determined, there are hundreds of champions and friends – on both sides of the aisle – who will return or continue on Capitol Hill in critical appropriations and foreign policy leadership posts.

TOP COMMITTEEE CHAMPIONS RETURN: In the upper chamber, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Jim Risch (R-ID) take the mantle in critical committee leadership roles. On the House side, Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) all return to Capitol Hill.

FRONTLINE NATIONAL SECURITY VOICES: High profile bipartisan For Country Caucus leaders – like Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Mike Waltz (R-FL), and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) – will also return to Capitol Hill alongside national security experts, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and others.

4. Future champions and friends are heading to Congress, including veterans and leaders from USGLC’s state networks.

In addition to our champions and friends returning, there will be many new friends heading to Congress come January. In our more than 360 briefings, we met dozens and dozens of candidates from both parties who shared their strong interest in and commitment to the importance of America’s global leadership and the role of diplomacy and development. Some came with powerful personal stories and experience – such as veterans, business leaders, and those who participated in missionary work.

NEW TO FOREIGN POLICY: While a number of candidates running in the open race seats showed up to USGLC meetings with limited foreign policy background, candidates were open to learning and discussing foreign policy and the global ties to their state.

  • Among those who described their platforms as “America First”, many candidates connected American global leadership to smart economic investments for their state. For others it was a deeply personal connection from past travel, family connections, or religious beliefs.

USGLC LEADERS: Our coalition will see more USGLC members who once served on our State Advisory Committees join the ranks of Congress, including the first USGLC committee member to be elected to the U.S. Senate. All of these newly-elected Members are poised to be emerging leaders on diplomacy and development as they arrive on Capitol Hill:

  • Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-AL) has spoken out in strong support of U.S. global leadership stating that “America should lead from a place of strength… in the world.” She promised that “whether it be trade deals, armed conflicts, treaties or foreign aid, I will make sure Alabama not only has a seat at the table, but benefits directly.”
  • Representative-elect Morgan McGarvey (D-KY) is a strong supporter of American global leadership particularly in the area of global health.
  • Representative-elect Zach Nunn (R-IA) has advocated as a combat veteran and a former national security official on why American must remain engaged in the world.
  • While his race is still too close to call, business and community leader Jevin Hodge (D-AZ) has demonstrated growing support on the importance of U.S. leadership in the world, particularly through the lens of climate change and energy security.

5. The populist winds and voices are still a relevant issue.

The populism that has animated some voters and candidates in both parties continued in 2022. On the Republican side, many skeptics of America’s role in the world lost their races, but some will still show up on Capitol Hill and need further engagement and education.

LEADERS RETIRING: As an example of the transitions now underway, several important Republican champions – who have led on critical global development, global health, and diplomacy issues – will be leaving big shoes to fill in the U.S. Senate at the end of the 117th Congress. At present, the newly elected senators filling their seats do not yet match the same level of commitment and support as their predecessor – and some could bring new challenges to the issues.

  • In Ohio, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) departs the Senate as a strong internationalist and the head of Ukraine Caucus, having just returned from a bipartisan trip to Kyiv. Ohio’s newest member of the upper chamber, Senator-elect J.D. Vance, will arrive as a candidate who has prominently campaigned against U.S. assistance to Ukraine.
  • In Missouri, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) – an important champion on global health – retires as Senator-elect Eric Schmitt (R-MO) wins his seat. Currently serving as Missouri’s attorney general, Schmitt has less experience on international affairs and has made mixed statements on the campaign trail, including questioning the value of U.S. engagement with the World Health Organization.
  • In North Carolina, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) – a longtime ally to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) supporting resources for the International Affairs Budget – departs as Senator-elect Ted Budd (R-NC) moves from the House to the upper chamber. While Budd has had a mixed record in the House on important diplomacy and development votes, he has been more forthright on the importance of U.S. global leadership on the campaign trail.

All three of these new senators have shown interest in meeting and engaging with USGLC leaders after the election – along with other freshmen who are soon headed to Capitol Hill. For more on what all the newly-elected senators have said on diplomacy and development, see USGLC’s incoming senator profiles later in this report.

INTERNATIONALISTS ON THE TRAIL: Partnering up to elevate critical national security issues on the campaign trail, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Trump Administration State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus traveled the country in the final days of the election hosting candidate forums from Arizona to Florida to North Carolina to Pennsylvania. This important momentum ahead of election day bodes well for the coming Congress and how this new freshman class engages on the issues – and how many ultimately support diplomacy and development.

PROGRESSIVE LETTER: On the Democratic side – in the days leading up to the election – House Progressives released a letter urging the President to engage in direct talks with Russia, potentially sidelining Ukraine, to press for a “realistic framework for a ceasefire.” Some interpreted the move as a weakening of support for Ukraine and the backlash from within the party was swift with the letter quickly withdrawn.

6. Foreign assistance a non-issue while diplomacy and global development animated some candidates.

To determine whether or not foreign assistance or foreign policy issues were a lightning rod during the campaign, the USGLC analyzed advertising and candidate platforms throughout the election.

CAMPAIGN ADVERTISING: Out of more than 3.2 millions total ad spots on the airwaves in 2022, USGLC’s research team identified only three broadcast ads that criticized a Congressional candidate for their support of aid to Ukraine across all the primary and general election races. No other anti-foreign aid ads directed against individual candidates were identified.

  • This block of negative ad runs was an infinitesimally small slice of ads at just 0.1% of all broadcast ad runs. USGLC’s research team also identified that close to 7.4% of campaign ads overall touched on an international affairs issue.

CANDIDATE PLATFORMS: In reviewing the Senate candidate platforms of the 13 most competitive races in the country, the USGLC found that nearly every single major party candidate featured a formal foreign policy or national security plank on their platform, often acknowledging the importance of America’s global leadership or strength, even among candidates from the more ideological wings of their parties.

  • One common thread in Democratic platforms was the calling for a “diplomacy first” foreign policy, while Republican platforms often pointed to views on how the world is less safe when America is “weak” on the global stage.
  • Within the top Senate races, no major party candidate called for specifically cutting resources for foreign aid, diplomacy or global development within their formal campaign platforms, even though two candidates did call for cutting the federal budget.

GLOBAL ISSUES: While not top issues in a domestic-focused election, Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates did stake out positions on core diplomacy and development issues during this midterm election cycle:

  • DIPLOMACY: At a time when the world is war-weary, candidates across the country and on both sides of the aisle – including those in competitive races – often called for a “strong diplomatic corps” and “stronger diplomacy” and highlighted the importance of putting “diplomacy first” in their campaign platforms and in discussions during briefings with USGLC state leaders.
  • GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY: Across social media and on the campaign trail, candidates regularly highlighted the message that “food security is national security”, making the connection between local farming communities and the stakes for global hunger around the world as the war in Ukraine has disrupted supply chains globally.
  • GLOBAL STABILITY: Given the growing number of threats and crises around the world, candidates also made the connection on the importance of resources for diplomacy and development to promote American stability. Engaging in USGLC candidate briefings, a veteran and Republican candidate in the Heartland – who was a self-identified budget hawk – stated that “reining in federal spending should not affect this issue.” A Democrat running for the House in Florida also spoke up that he is “a big believer in aid to foreign countries and USAID” considering the threats around the world.

7. The world is watching as policymakers leave campaign trail behind to confront critical global agenda.

Covering the front pages of newspapers from the UK to France to Kenya to Singapore, the U.S. election made headlines around the world.

  • In Europe, Martin Quencez of the German Marshall Fund’s Paris office said the question that remains is whether the U.S. “can still produce predictability for allies” or will it revolve around partisan debates “that have very little importance to Europeans.”
  • African political analyst Ebenezer Obadare stated, “Political polarization in the U.S. — and the subsequent ripples — has deepened anxiety about the prospects of democracy globally.” He added that Africans are focused on whether the U.S. can deliver on the goals “outlined in the recently launched U.S. strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa.”
  • Not surprisingly in Asia, Chinese state media suggested that the “U.S. is bracing for further chaos and division” and predicted more “partisan strife” in the U.S. after the elections after President Xi Jinping cemented his historic third term last month.

WHEELS UP FOR U.S. POLICYMAKERS: With the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror, U.S. policymakers are headed out of the country to the global climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and beyond.

  • Following his post-midterm press conference yesterday – a Washington tradition – President Joe Biden departs today for the climate summit along with stops in Cambodia and Indonesia for the G20.
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is leading a COP27 Congressional delegation of more than a dozen Members, telling reporters in her departure press statement that Congress is “proud to work side-by-side with our partners around the world… we’re all in.”
  • The GOP Climate Caucus is also headed to the summit with Caucus Chairman John Curtis (R-UT) stating “our delegation in Egypt will be the proof that the Republicans are not just at the climate table but leading with solutions.”

» Read the full report here for more on what the results mean for the 118th Congress, the International Affairs Budget, and details on the new U.S. senators headed to Washington.

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