UPDATED: November 11, 2014, at 2:50 p.m.
The reports of the demise of the Republican Party were greatly exaggerated.
Republicans swept races at every level of government in the 2014 midterm elections, capturing seven Senate seats, increasing their margin by 10 in the House of Representatives, and picking up four new governor’s mansions in Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Now, they also control a full two-thirds of state legislatures in the country, with 24 states governed entirely by Republicans and only seven under total Democratic rule. The outcomes of two Senate races and several House contests remain unsettled. Nonetheless, this was a wave election in every sense of the word.
But the murmurs have already begun among the liberal pundits. As their logic goes, the Republicans didn’t really win the 2014 midterms because they cheated. How? By instituting restrictive voter ID laws in conservative states in order to keep minorities and the poor away from the ballot-box. This would be a fine explanation—if results from exit polling actually backed it up.
Let’s look at North Carolina, home to the author, as well as the most expensive Senate race in American history. North Carolina passed a voter ID law in 2013, prompting outrage from the left. Several pundits have already credited this law with ensuring Thom Tillis’ victory. There is only one problem: The law does not take effect until 2016.
This year when voters arrived at the polls they were asked the question, “Do you have an official form of photo identification?” If the voter answered yes, he was handed a ballot and sent on his way without having to offer proof. If he answered no, he was provided with an informational pamphlet detailing how to obtain a free state-issued ID in the two years before the 2016 election and—get this—then handed his ballot and allowed to vote. Nobody was turned away from the polls this year in North Carolina by the voter ID law passed in 2013.
According to exit polls, black voters constituted 21 percent of the electorate in this year’s Senate election. That number is extremely close to the actual percentage of residents who are black in the state of North Carolina, which is 22 percent according to 2010 Census Bureau data. Tillis did not win because of disenfranchisement; in fact, 2014 turnout was slightly higher than turnout in 2010. He won because of widespread discontent with the Obama administration, and because Hagan did not share that sentiment.
If one is still skeptical that Republicans can succeed without voter ID, let us now examine a state that went in the opposite direction. Colorado mailed every registered voter a ballot for the first time this year, in an effort to ensure widespread participation in the democratic process. Under the prevailing assumption that higher turnout aids Democratic candidates, this procedure should have saved Senator Mark Udall from defeat. Instead, Republican Representative Cory Gardner won by a 2.5 percent margin. He achieved this even with a slight increase in turnout over the 2010 midterms, with 52.4 percent of registered Colorado voters participating this year.
Still unconvinced? Maybe you believe that Democratic voters simply had less of a reason to turn out in force this year? Perhaps one of the most polarized states in the nation will change your mind. There is no Republican governor in the country more despised by the left than Scott Walker of Wisconsin. In 2012, after a single year in office dominated by public battles with unions, Walker was recalled–and won the election with 53 percent of the vote in a blue state. This year, he held fast with his earlier total, winning 52.5 percent with a margin of six percentage points over his opponent Mary Burke. All this in a year with 56 percent turnout of the voting age public in Wisconsin, the highest for a midterm in 60 years.
None of this means that Republicans should not be working to improve their margins among minority voters. The highest percentage of African-American voters captured by any statewide Republican candidate this year was 10 percent for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who engaged with black voters by touting his reform of the state criminal justice system. It is downright pathetic that hitting double digits now counts as an accomplishment.
That being said, we should combat the misinformation regarding recent measures intended to cut down on voter fraud. As the books close on the 2014 elections, the proof is in the data: Republicans did not win because they depressed turnout. They won because in this election, voters considered two sets of opposing policies and chose the set that has gathered dust on the top shelf for the last eight years. Let us hope that it makes a difference.
Andrew B. Pardue ’16 is a government concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: November 11, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tom Udall was defeated in Colorado's U.S. Senate race. In fact, it was his cousin Mark Udall who was defeated. Tom Udall was re-elected this year as a senator for New Mexico.