Midterm elections bring big wins for women, Democrats, but splits Congress

A rainbow stretches across the sky above the US Capitol dome

A rainbow forms over the US Capitol as evening sets on midterm Election Day in Washington, DC. American voters gave control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats and Republicans gained seats in the Senate. 

Credit:

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Nearly all the votes are tallied. What happened: Democratic voters in suburban and exurban areas across the country helped the party claim more than the 23 seats they needed to take control of the US House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Republicans added to their Senate majority by flipping seats in Indiana and Missouri, and Ted Cruz held off a charge by Beto O’Rourke in Texas.  

But what does it mean?

Today on The World, we looked at how women — a lot of them — broke records and how the environment may fare under a divided government as well as a few other big ways the new Congress is poised to be different from the last. 

A record number of women ran — and won


According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 237 women ran for 435 House seats. As of this reporting, 96 of those women won their races. Currently, there are 84 women serving in the House. In the Senate, 22 women will serve.

Related: After midterms, women fill a new-look Congress

Voters still fell victim to disinformation campaigns 


President Donald Trump signed an executive order just two months ago imposing sanctions on countries and other actors who seek to meddle in US elections in response to interference by Russia in the 2016 election — something Trump has reversed his position on several times. So, what about Tuesday’s elections?

We spoke to Renée DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge, and head of policy at Data for Democracy, about the kinds of disinformation campaigns that voters were likely to encounter.  

“The Russians were very much involved in the midterms again this year,” DiResta explained. “They've never really gone away … What we see is the increasing promotion of overt propaganda — sites that are known to be attributed to Russian state interests.  

DiResta said Russian meddlers work via “covert operations,” where they use social media to amplify existing stories. “They create ‘persona accounts’ … [and] use those accounts to influence people online.”

The Iranians took a different approach.

‘“[They] reached out to the American left thinking that amplifying [their messages] would benefit them,” DiResta said. “They sought out groups and people most ideologically aligned and decided to amplify their voices in the hopes of influencing the electorate. We saw them repurposing memes from sites like Occupy Democrats.”

Americans have gotten better at spotting disinformation online since the 2016 elections, but they still are not great at it.

“We're having an interesting conversation about propaganda in our country right now in the sense that there are still large numbers of people who believe that the Russian operation was really just — you know, a vast conspiracy by the left — that it's not a real thing that happened,” said DiResta.

What’s in store for the future of fake news and foreign interference in US elections?

“I think we're going to see less of the 2016 playbook … and much more infiltration of groups,” DiResta predicted. There is an opportunity to infiltrate these more closed communities to exert influence over communities that already do have some distribution and some audience.”

“One of the biggest vulnerabilities is actually groups because that's where like-minded people tend to cluster,” DiResta said.

A mixed result for immigration-watchers

Those who favor more restrictive immigration policies see high-profile Republican wins and the hold on the Senate majority as a mandate for their candidates’ platforms. At the federal level, though, the split in Congress gives a new check on the most restrictive parts of Trump’s immigration agenda.

Democrats are “in a position to conduct oversight hearings — on things like family separation, for example — and hold federal agencies accountable for their practices: How are dollars being spent by DHS [the Department of Homeland Security]? How are people being treated in detention?” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group.

At the state and local level, initiatives that protect immigrants fared well in races around the country, including a failed challenge to “sanctuary laws” in Oregon and sheriff's races fought largely on whether or not officers cooperate with all federal immigration agency requests. 

The midterms also prompted Trump to shake up his Cabinet, starting with the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions will be temporarily replaced by the Justice Department Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker; a new attorney general will need to be confirmed by the Senate. The attorney general holds considerable power over immigration issues, including oversight of the backlogged immigration court system.

Climate tax and renewable energy fail at the ballot box


Tuesday’s midterm elections also saw mixed results for climate action.

A number of environmental ballot measures across the country failed, including what would’ve been the first climate tax nationwide, in Washington state; a renewable energy mandate in Arizona; and a measure to curb fracking in Colorado.

Each of those races had tens of millions of dollars pouring in from environmental advocates and fossil fuel interest groups alike.

A ban on offshore drilling in state waters in Florida, however, passed, and voters favored a Nevada renewable energy target but it has to go through another vote before it takes effect. (Nevada’s constitution requires that amendments be approved in two consecutive elections.)

“The ballot initiative votes are a big wake-up call, that, on local and state levels, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Thanu Yakupitiyage, a spokesperson for 350 Action, a group pushing for climate action. “We have to be targeting the fossil fuel industry and holding them to account. And I think that’s one of the major things mayors and governors can do.”

Going into the election, a dozen Democratic gubernatorial candidates pledged to get their states to 100 percent renewable energy by the midcentury. A number of those candidates won their races, including four that flipped their states from Republican to Democrat (Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan).

Those states that now have governors that support a full transition to renewables by 2050 currently emit about one-fifth of the country’s energy-related carbon emissions.

Additionally, some climate deniers were voted out of the House — and a climate change denier will no longer be heading up the House science committee, while several candidates who ran on climate action were voted in.

“This is massive,” Yakupitiyage said. “It was an extraordinary victory that the House flipped back to Democrat and that Lamar Smith is no longer chair of [the science] committee. And we’ll be working really closely with our Democratic allies in Congress. They need to be making climate change a top issue.”

She cited the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October describing the urgency of the problem. Scientists say we need to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050 if we want to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). But right now, only a minority of US states have aspirational plans to get there.

Carolyn Beeler, Karolina Chorvath, Lydia Emmanouilidou, Allison Herrera, Tania Karas, Jonathan Kealing, Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein, Peter Majerle, Alex Newman, Anna Pratt and Angilee Shah contributed to this report.
 

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