Who really won the US midterm elections

An outsize proportion of independent voters helped shape a new Congress with no big majorities, forcing greater balance and deliberation.

Members-elect from the U.S. House of Representatives prepare for a group photo outside of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, Nov. 15.

In the 2022 elections for the U.S. Congress, the most important voters turned out to be independents, according to exit polls. They were 31% of the electorate – the highest tally since 1980. Many split their tickets between Republicans and Democrats, chose character over ideology, and – perhaps most importantly – pushed the coming legislature into what the founders preferred: constitutional equipoise. The GOP appears set to control the House while Democrats will hold the Senate – both but barely.

If each party now honors the spirit of those independent voters, the 118th Congress could produce less divided government and more shared government.

Partisan gridlock can frustrate partisan activists in Congress, but it also can force elected representatives to act as cross-the-aisle legislators – to listen for “the cool and deliberate sense of the community,” as James Madison put it. Without clear majorities in either chamber, the parties must now work in harmony and equilibrium, like two individuals in a three-legged race, passing bills that reflect balance – the oft-neglected word in “checks and balance.”

“I’m going to say to my party, ‘We are not going to get everything we want; we’re going to have to compromise,’” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told The New York Times.

Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, told CNN, “I really hope that when we get into the next legislative term, we look at what is going to bring our nation together.”

A poll last year of those who voted in the 2020 elections found three enduring bonds of the American civic community. Despite a wide partisan divide, citizens embrace equality, liberty, and progress, according to the survey by the Siena College Research Institute. The poll revealed an “assertion that those values guide us in our thoughts and actions on a daily basis,” says the institute’s director, Don Levy.

Independents have helped set a tone for post-election harmony in Congress. “In recent elections, both parties have resorted to the politics of fear and anger – which may appeal to the base, but independents see it as only adding to the animosity dividing the country,” David Winston, a Republican pollster and strategist with the Winston Group, wrote in Roll Call. 

Many Americans hold strong fears that those on the other side of the political spectrum will harm the United States. One antidote to such fears lies in advice given by the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2011, a few months after she became the first reigning British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland. She spoke of forgiveness, saying it “can heal broken families, it can restore friendships, and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

In the results of the midterm elections, independent voters could have delivered a subtle message. It is that Congress must be less a pit of competing and unpardonable villains and more a den of forgiving and collaborative hearts, one where a suspension of ego and grievance can lead to equipoise in governance.

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