Welcome to Voices Of Color, a column that explores what’s on the minds of voters of color in this year’s midterm elections. Too often, media coverage focuses on the political preferences of white people with euphemisms like “suburban women” or “middle class.” But in this column, we want to know what makes voters of color tick.
We want to explore their views on politics, policy, the future of our democracy, our two-party system and everything in between. We hope that this column offers fresh perspectives from the minds of those whose political opinions are often overlooked or assumed. Because the midterm elections are officially behind us, this will be the last entry in the Voices of Color series for the foreseeable future. We hope you enjoyed reading!
Lisa Ayala-Davis says she knew that the polls predicting a red wave this year were mistaken.
“I feel like I was the lone voice saying, ‘Democrats are not going to do as badly as the pundits are saying,’” Ayala-Davis, a 48-year-old Hispanic Democrat living in rural Georgia, told me. In fact, she was more shocked by Democrats’ perceived underperformance in certain states. “I was really surprised that [Republican] J.D. Vance won the U.S. Senate race in Ohio. I really thought [Democrat] Tim Ryan was going to pull it off.”
Ayala-Davis’s high hopes for the Democrats aside, it was a good year for her party. Although Republicans narrowly took control of the House of Representatives, Democrats skirted the sizable losses that the president’s party tends to suffer in midterm races. Not only that, Democrats kept their Senate majority, even flipping an additional Senate seat.
So with the 2022 cycle officially behind us, I wanted to close my Voices of Color column by checking in with five voters about how they’re processing the results — both in their home states and nationally. This year’s midterms left some voters, especially those who identified as Republicans, especially shocked. Mickey N., who asked us not to use his full name due to privacy concerns, compared Republican defeat to a shopworn metaphor from Charlie Brown: Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown’s foot just as he begins his kick, with Republicans, this time, left flat on their backs.
“Mitch McConnell had no plans, while Florida Sen. Rick Scott had a ‘comprehensive’ plan to tax half of America,” he said. “They just didn’t have a coherent message.”
I also wanted to know how these voters of color are thinking ahead to the 2024 presidential election. Like a lot of the country, my interviewees weren’t jazzed about a potential rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump. But they still had draft boards of other candidates they’d like to see running for commander-in-chief. (I won’t spoil their answers, though. More on that lower down.)
The interviews below have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alex Samuels: What was the biggest factor motivating you to vote this year?
Mickey N. (26, Ohio, Hispanic, Republican): I think the two main driving factors behind my vote this year were the Jan. 6 insurrection and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Republican Party’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis also made my life more difficult, as someone in the medical field. We had people who would come in and say they were being ‘forced’ to get the vaccine or falsely claim that there was a microchip in the vaccine.
Liv Marshall (22, Oregon, Asian, independent): There were some personal things going on that factored into me casting a ballot this year. For one, I have family affiliated with Oregon’s state government, and they were very worried about the three-way governor’s race and how the splitting of the vote could potentially shake up the outcome. That was definitely a strong factor. Secondly, I was more motivated to vote — and generally more politically engaged — following the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe.
Kyla Ross (33, Massachusetts, Black, Democrat): The overturning of Roe. That was very upsetting, especially because I’ve seen the positive effects of abortion access — particularly in Detroit, which is where I grew up. Even when I was like a teenager or in middle school, I know some people who had to get abortions. And I saw for myself that them making that decision and having access to abortions benefitted their lives greatly. I was also turned off by all of the extremist and hateful rhetoric coming from the Republican side and feel as though voting and donating are my way of mitigating those types of things.
Aditya Eachempati (61, Missouri, Asian, Republican): Certain policies or political factors may have influenced who I cast a ballot for, but not whether I actually vote.
Lisa Ayala-Davis (48, Georgia, Hispanic, Democrat): I’m a regular voter. I mean, I’ve practically voted in every election I’ve been eligible for. The only year I didn’t vote was in 2000, but I was married to a soldier and living in Germany at the time, and I didn’t know about the process of requesting an absentee ballot. All of that is my long-winded way of saying that it doesn’t take a lot of motivation for me to go vote.
AS: Which election result — or trend — surprised you the most?
Mickey N.: I’m amazed at how well Republicans performed in California and New York. The Lauren Boebert race in Colorado was interesting to watch, too. And, being a health care provider, I was also floored that some political prognosticators were ‘shocked’ to see that abortion access was a big issue to voters. I think polling vastly undershot that.
Marshall: Historically, I know the out-party is usually more successful in the first midterm election after a new party takes over the presidency. That said, I was definitely surprised that Republicans didn’t do better. I feel like I heard a lot of chatter about more fringe Republican candidates who ended up not doing as well as many people thought they would.
Ross: As someone from Detroit, I knew that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was going to win. I think she’s a great governor and I understood why she handled the COVID-19 pandemic the way she did. I was surprised, though, that Democrats ended up flipping the state legislature, too. I wasn’t too shocked about much else. I knew that Democrats would keep the U.S. Senate, and I think certain political pundits underestimated the intelligence of voters in this country.
Eachempati: In Missouri? Nothing. But I didn’t think Whitmer would win as easily as she did. I’m also a bit surprised that Republicans picked up a few congressional seats in New York.
AS: How would you assess both Republican and Democratic performance this election cycle? Did one party exceed or fall short of your expectations?
Mickey N.: With everyone talking about a ‘red wave,’ I was pretty shocked at how badly Republicans whiffed it this year. Regarding Democrats, I’d say that the quality of their candidates exceeded my expectations. I was happy to see a lot more pragmatic Democrats running.
Marshall: Going off of my previous answer, I definitely think that Democrats performed better than I expected — while Republicans performed more poorly. Considering that the economy and inflation were consistently listed as top concerns for voters headed in the midterm elections, I’m really surprised that Democrats didn’t face more backlash over things like gas prices or high inflation rates.
Ross: I feel like Democrats could have had a stronger ground game in certain states. I also think that, sometimes, Democrats aren’t as vocal about their accomplishments and, as a result, their good deeds get muddled by all of the mess that’s constantly being spewed by the Republican Party. That’s one thing I appreciate about Republicans: Their messaging has been on point. For example, Trump isn’t even in office anymore and yet, somehow, I still know what he said on his social media platform yesterday. For better or worse, the party is very loud and vocal when it comes to telling voters their plans, and Democrats need to do a better job of taking them seriously.
Eachempati: Even though Republicans fell short of my expectations, some reporting suggests that they actually did quite well in U.S. House races and won the national popular vote by 3 points. Democrats performed about as I expected they would, but I think they won more races than they should have, in part, because Republicans ran weak candidates against them.
AS: Did you only vote for your party’s candidates, or did you cross party lines for any candidates? If you did vote for any opposite-party candidates, can you elaborate on why?
Mickey N.: I voted a straight blue ticket this November. At the local level, there was a Republican state representative running whom I voted against because she didn’t believe in any exceptions for abortion. And I voted against Vance because of his stances on Ukraine. That said, if Vance’s beliefs were closer to that of outgoing Sen. Rob Portman, I would’ve probably voted for a Republican in that race.
But, in all honesty, I don’t think I can see myself voting for Republicans until they publicly condemn the Jan. 6 insurrection. In a way, I’m sort of voting for Democrats as a punishment to Republicans until they get back to their old values and cut out the more cancerous sects of the party. I did vote in the GOP primary this year, but I only supported moderate candidates.
Marshall: I identify as an independent. I grew up in New Hampshire and feel like a lot of people there identify as independent, too, but my views definitely lean Democratic. That said, I did technically cross party lines and vote a straight blue ticket this year, but I still feel like the independent label encompasses my beliefs better.
Ross: I did not. I voted for Democrats up and down the ballot.
Eachempati: I crossed party lines in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race and voted for [Democrat] Trudy Busch Valentine over [Republican] Eric Schmitt mainly because I don’t like Schmitt. I didn’t like that he was primarily funded by the finance industry and he didn’t seem to have a clear plan for what he wanted to do if elected. It just seemed like he wanted to file a bunch of lawsuits. To be clear, I didn’t think Valentine was a particularly strong candidate, either, but at least she wasn’t Schmitt. I also voted for the Democrats running for attorney general and secretary of state but supported Republicans in every other race here.
Ayala-Davis: The one Republican that I voted for is a personal friend who ran unopposed for county commissioner. But besides that, I did not cross party lines.
AS: Are you more or less optimistic about the country’s future following the 2022 midterm elections?
Mickey N.: I’m tentatively optimistic, but generally pessimistic.
Marshall: I’m very, very cautiously optimistic because a lot of the more radical, or fringe, Republican candidates were not successful in their general election races. That makes me hopeful that the cycle of political polarization we’ve seen in the last few years will stop.
Ayala-Davis: I am more optimistic. Before the election, it was easy to get discouraged because it felt like every single person on TV was saying that there was going to be a ‘red wave’ or that Democrats were going to be embarrassed by the results. But then the election came about and over and over again it was proven that issues like abortion access and preserving democracy were important to voters this cycle. That makes me feel so vindicated and optimistic about our future.
AS: What are you hoping the federal government can accomplish with a Republican House and Democratic Senate?
Mickey N.: If they accomplish anything, I’ll be shocked. I have no expectations for them to get anything done. Still, I’d like to see Congress tackle another big infrastructure bill.
Ross: My reality pants are on, and they’re making me say that nothing meaningful will get done. Democrats might get more federal judges (blah, blah, blah), but as far as passing bills and stuff like that, I’m skeptical. That said, if House Democrats play their cards right and grab five or six Republicans they can negotiate with, then maybe Democrats — and Congress generally — will be able to pass stuff. If so, I hope they’re able to pass more progressive legislation on issues like health care, child care and education.
Eachempati: I hope that Republicans can come up with solutions to decentralize things like education, energy and health care. But in general, I want Republicans to do what I like Republicans to do: Keep government small, and keep taxes lower. It’s unpopular to want to cut Social Security and Medicare, but I hope Congress will do that, too. Most of my concerns revolve around fiscal stuff because I think issues like abortion access can be dealt with through ballot initiatives at the state level. That was pretty effective in Kansas and Michigan.
Ayala-Davis: I’m hopeful that lawmakers will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion despite there being so few issues where there’s crossover support. Maybe something with immigration is possible? That’s another issue that I care about a lot.
AS: Of the two major political parties, which do you think is in a better position to govern headed into next year? Why?
Marshall: I would say that Democrats are in a better position to govern mainly because it seems like there’s a lot of political infighting among Republicans. I understand that there’s still a lot of debate regarding who’s going to be the next speaker of the House, and I think issues and divisions like that are definitely more prevalent in the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.
Ross: Neither. I think both parties are scattered across the cosmos.
Eachempati: I think there will be a gridlock because the Republican House will make it its business to block anything that comes out of Democratic Senate and vice versa. The status quo will continue because everything will be blocked. I wouldn’t say either party is in a better position to govern; it’s going to be a tie, and things will probably stay the same.
Ayala-Davis: Obviously the Democrats. The fact that they hold the White House and Senate, I think, gives them a leg up. Republicans have a slightly bigger hurdle.
AS: How are you feeling about the 2024 presidential contest? Why?
Marshall: It feels like there’s no clear path for either party to take at this point, and I can’t believe we’re already talking about this. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place because I can’t fathom Biden running again because of his age — but I also don’t know who else would run on the Democratic side. And then, among Republicans, I feel like Trump will be an automatic front-runner because I just don’t see the party rallying around someone else to challenge him.
Ross: We have too many elections. The 2022 midterms literally just ended, and we already have someone announcing that they’re running for president. For my own sick entertainment, I’d really like to see a race between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. But I don’t think I care to see Biden and Trump going at it again.
Eachempati: I think DeSantis is easily the strongest Republican presidential candidate — even if he’s not my favorite candidate per se. I don’t think Trump has much of a chance, but I think DeSantis would beat Biden. With all the senators up for reelection in 2024, Republicans have an advantage there, too; and if they stop nominating bad candidates, they should also keep the U.S. House. I’m pretty optimistic about the 2024 election.
Ayala-Davis: Like most of the country, I really don’t want to see a rematch of Biden versus Trump. That’s going to be so toxic. On the flip side, if DeSantis manages to get the nomination, I don’t think Biden is going to be able to beat him. The visual of an 80-something-year-old up against a 40-something-year-old will be hard to overcome. I think Biden has been a great president and has accomplished so much, so I don’t want to be ageist — but I am a realist. I guess, like every other Democrat, I’m just waiting for the next Barack Obama. I just don’t know who that person is.
AS: Who would be on your dream presidential ticket in 2024?
Mickey N.: Whitmer for president and Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro for vice president. But Shapiro is a tentative pick because he just got elected to the governorship. If his track record tanks between now and Election Day, I’d pick someone else to replace him. But I like Whitmer because I think she’s great. She governed under a Republican legislature and managed to help flip both chambers blue. Whitmer and outgoing Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney [for vice president] could be an option, too. I just don’t want to see Trump in 2024 — or for him to be a factor in Republican politics anymore.
Marshall: I want Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to run. He’s a fellow independent, and, as a young person, I agree with a lot of his policies. That said, it’s hard to imagine him running in 2024, given his age. And I’m not sure who I would choose for the vice president slot, but ideally it’d be someone who’s more representative of the demographic blocs Bernie can’t necessarily reach.
Ross: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or California Rep. Katie Porter for president and Newsom for vice president.
Eachempati: DeSantis is fine, but I’d also be OK with [outgoing] Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine — basically any strong Republican governor. In general, I have a bias toward governors versus senators because I think governors have strong executive skills that senators often lack. And honestly, I don’t think the vice-presidential pick matters too much.
Ayala-Davis: I think about this stuff a lot because everybody says, ‘Well, if not Biden, who?’ And I know I’m going to sound like a closet television pundit, but the person who I think would be a really good candidate is U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel because he’s got such a good resume and he’s such a fighter. I know nobody’s thinking about him as a viable candidate, but I think whoever goes up against either Trump or DeSantis needs to be a fighter. But what do I know?