Despite predictions to the contrary, Democrats had a successful election night, holding the Senate, winning key battleground House races nationwide and defeating extremist GOP candidates in important gubernatorial, attorney general and secretary of state races.
Americans came out to the polls to protect democracy and beat back extremism. Most of us in this country agree that our democratic system works best when we all have our voices heard and our votes counted.
The Republican Party ignored that and ran ultra-MAGA candidates — many of them backed by former President Donald Trump — who put a constant focus on lies about the 2020 election. Nationally, 60% of Americans had an election denier on their ballot, including several who were present at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and in some cases breached police lines.
These extremists defended political violence and threatened to overturn future elections if they didn’t like the results.
Arizona Republican secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem explicitly said he would not certify anything but a Trump victory in 2024. Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels promised that if he became governor, Republicans would never lose another election. And Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz spent the final Saturday before the election rallying with failed Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Trump, who said that he needed Oz in the Senate to overturn the 2024 election. The list goes on.
As every sentence Republicans uttered included a noun, a verb and a denial of the 2020 election, Democrats offered a contrast as the party that would uphold the will of the people and protect our democracy.
In many top federal and state-level battlegrounds, Democrats hounded their opponents for trying to overthrow the will of the people while presenting themselves as the candidates who will protect democracy, take on corporate special interests and fight for working families. End Citizens United (ECU), an organization dedicated to fighting corruption, getting big money out of politics and protecting the right to vote, was proud to play a major role in reinforcing that message.
The contrast between these two types of candidates motivated Democratic voters. It also persuaded independents and even some Republicans. In a post-election poll, Impact Research and ECU found that voters said that this election was more important than most and protecting democracy was the top reason why. This is consistent with findings in a number of polls released prior to the election.
In the Impact/ECU poll, voters listed “protecting democracy” (59%) as an “extremely important” reason they decided to vote, followed by inflation (53%), the Dobbs v. Jackson decision (47%) and crime and public safety (45%).
The poll also found that 69% of Republicans and independents who voted for a Democratic congressional candidate said that protecting democracy was “extremely important.” By a 10-point margin, voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans to “stand up to threats to democracy.”
That crossover support from Republicans and independents was the crucial difference in some of the most important races.
In Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) hammered Republican Adam Laxalt for his support of the Jan. 6 rioters, his work to overturn the 2020 election and his threats to similarly reject the will of the people in 2022.
Cortez Masto attributed her narrow victory to voters’ disdain of Laxalt’s support for overthrowing the election, saying that safeguarding our democracy and our democratic institutions was bipartisan and resonated with Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Threats to our democracy don’t stop with election denialism and political violence. Voters also cited money in politics and corruption as part of the problem. Americans want their democracy to work for everyone. They know the deck is stacked against them. They want to stop corporations and billionaires from being able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to prop up radical candidates and buy policy outcomes.
Republicans are out of step with those values, as they turned a blind eye to corporate greed, called for eliminating Social Security and protected dark money. In contrast, many Democrats refused corporate PAC money, stood up to corporations raising costs and called for reforms to end dark money and ban stock trading by members of Congress.
Republicans show no sign of letting up on their threats to our democracy. There will still be election deniers serving in Congress, some Republicans are refusing to accept their own losses in 2022 and the ringleader of election denialism — Trump — is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
They will keep pushing for anti-voting laws, supporting political violence and threatening to overthrow election results. They are trying to silence Americans and stunt Democrats’ ability to make change on critical issues like abortion rights, health care, gun violence and climate change.
It’s imperative that Democrats continue to work to defend our democracy. It’s both the right policy to make government work for everyone and a strong political message.
We can restore Americans’ trust and faith in the system by supporting popular policies such as protecting voting access, ending dark money and banning members of Congress from trading stock.
Voters will reject extremists trying to take away their freedoms if Democrats can offer a clear alternative by helping people understand the stakes and making personal and tangible connections between the health of democracy and its benefits to people’s lives.
Tiffany Muller is the president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote.
This piece is part of Democracy Docket’s How We Won series, which features op-eds from candidates and organizations that answer the question: How did you win in the 2022 midterm elections and what does this victory mean for democracy?