How the U.S. Midterm Elections Will Impact International Relations

By: Molly Miller and Navya Chintaman

This article will examine a number of different, highly-anticipated races and what they mean for Congress, the 2024 Presidential election and the United States’ foreign policy going forward.

History Being Made: 

Starting off with historical precedents, Congress’s first Gen-Z member was elected. Generation Z includes anyone born after 1996. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a 25-year-old activist, was a clear winner for Florida’s 10th Congressional district seat. 

Frost is now the youngest member ever elected to Congress. He was previously the National Organizing Director for March For Our Lives. He’s focused on gun reform, climate change, and progressive ideas like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. 

A number of other historical precedents were made in terms of inclusion and diversity this election cycle: 

On abortion: 

Five states voted on state-level abortion laws, which became a heated topic after the Dobbs decision earlier this year: Vermont, California, Michigan, Montana and Kentucky. Vermont, California and Michigan voted in favor of strengthening and codifying abortion rights. Montana rejected its “Born Alive” ballot measure, which would have required medical workers to provide care to infants born prematurely or in rare instances of surviving an attempted abortion. 

This measure was largely criticized by medical professionals, who claimed it was an overreach of government power in the medical field and the relationships between patients and their doctors. NPR stated that the “measure declared that an embryo or fetus is a legal person with a right to medical care if born prematurely or survives an attempted abortion, among other birth scenarios.” Kentucky voted to reject the ballot measure that would have erased the right to abortion.

Tight Races:

John Fetterman beat Dr. Oz for a Senate seat to represent Pennsylvania in Congress. Dr. Oz, a former celebrity doctor, was involved in numerous controversies, including one where one of his experiments reportedly killed 300 dogs. Dr. Oz was endorsed by Donald Trump. Fetterman was leading in the polls until he suffered a stroke in May, which served as a major point of conversation leading up to the elections. 

Mark Kelly (D), the current Arizona Senator, barely held on to his lead against Blake Masters (R) in a tight race. Kelly was previously elected as senator in a 2020 special election. As of November 12th, the AP called the race in favor of Kelly.

In Nevada, Adam Laxalt (R) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D), were embroiled in a tight race for a Senate seat. As of November 12th, Masto won the race with a lead of around 6,000 votes (out of almost one million total). This state was the final race to determine that Democrats retained the Senate majority.

In Wisconsin, Mandela Barnes (D), who ran a strategic campaign and was strongly favored by democrats, very narrowly lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, trailing behind by 26,000 votes (out of more than 2.6 million total votes). Also in Wisconsin, Incumbent Governor Tony Evers (D) tightly won his reelection bid against Trump-backed Tim Michels (R). Evers is a strong advocate of voting rights and maintaining access to abortions.

In Georgia, Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) have had one of the most high-stakes elections this year. Walker has been embroiled in numerous controversies: he’s reportedly paid women to get abortions, been accused of domestic violence and stalking, and has made comments on absentee fathers that are viewed by many as hypocritical, given that he himself is one. Warnock previously ran in a 2020 special election, which he won. Neither Warnock nor Walker reached the 50% majority needed to win this time, so the election will head to a runoff in December of this year. 

In Arizona, another highly contested spot for governor took place between Katie Hobbs (D) and Kari Lake (R). Kari Lake is a former television news anchor who was endorsed by Trump. She’s an election denier and has repeatedly switched her party affiliation. She was previously one of President Obama’s biggest supporters. As of November 18th, Katie Hobbs was declared the winner of the election. Lake has repeatedly declined to concede.

Lauren Boebert (R), who currently represents Colorado’s 3rd District, was in a very tight race with Adam Frisch (D). As of November 10th, with 99% reporting, Boebert is in the lead. The race was incredibly close, but on Friday, November 18th, Frisch conceded to Boebert. Although the race was likely headed to a recount, Frisch claims that he wasn’t sure he’d have enough votes to swing the lead to his side.

Boebert has been one of Trump’s biggest supporters, and she’s often seen alongside Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right, Q-Anon supporting Congresswoman, who easily won her bid for reelection in Georgia’s 14th congressional district.

With all of these races so close (along with many others that we haven’t gone into detail on), and with so many civil rights and values at stake, we want to stress the absolute importance of voting, even in down-ballot elections. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like your vote may not matter, but these races highlight how close elections can get and how your vote directly affects who represents you and the values you care about.

The Democrat “Superstar Losers: the high-profile Democrats that lost elections, and what’s next for them.

Tim Ryan (D) has been serving as a Representative for Ohio since 2003. Ryan ran against J.D. Vance, an American venture capitalist who is most famous for his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, for the congressional Ohio Senate seat. Vance has no political experience and was endorsed by President Trump. Ryan was declared the loser of the election by the Associated Press early on into the night. In a now-viral tweet from that night, Tim Ryan tweeted that “we left it all on the field.” 

Moving on to Texas, Beto O’Rourke (D) officially lost his gubernatorial bid against incumbent Governor Greg Abbott. This is Beto’s third time losing an election in the last five years, after losing his Senate election against Cruz in 2018 and his presidential bid in 2020. It’s unsure what’s next for his political future. Beto has yet to announce anything on his public social media platforms. Abbott won by a significant margin, including by an overwhelming amount in Uvalde County, where a school shooting that killed over 20 children and teachers happened earlier this year. 

Stacey Abrams (D) also lost by a significant amount against Brian Kemp, the incumbent governor of Georgia. Abrams previously lost against Kemp in 2018 by a much smaller margin. In 2018, Kemp refused to resign from his Secretary of State position and was accused by many democrats of voter suppression, given his tricky record on voting rights during the 2016 presidential election. 

In response to this alleged voter suppression after her election loss, Abrams created her voting rights nonprofit, Fair Fight, which registered over 800,000 new Georgian voters. Her work was crucial in the 2020 runoff elections that elected Georgian Senators Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D). Similarly, Beto also created Powered by People and registered hundreds of thousands of Texans to vote. 

Both O’Rourke and Abrams have superstar Democratic reputations but have yet to hold any high-profile office that they have long hoped for. Abrams used to be a representative in the Georgia State legislature, and Beto was previously the U.S. Congressman representing El Paso. Both ran brilliant campaigns lauded by political experts, but it’s unclear what’s next for both of them.

Congressional Control: 

The Associated Press called the Senate in favor of the Democrats and called the House of Representatives in favor of the Republicans. The 2018 midterms have significantly restructured the political landscape of Congress, and numerous questions remain unanswered about the effects of Congress’s power shift regarding the significant change in congressional leadership. On November 17th, 2022, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she would be stepping down from political leadership but maintaining her seat in Congress. The new House Speaker is Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Many political experts were predicting a “red wave,” as this often happens after the new political party gets elected into the executive office. This was seen in 2018 after President Trump got elected. However, this time, Democrats maintained a considerable hold on offices up and down the ballot.

Election deniers have been elected across the ballot, but have not been doing as well as far-right GOP members have hoped. 17 election deniers have been elected for office in either Secretary of State, Governor, or Senate positions. 24 have lost.

Democrats may be overperforming because of a strengthening nationwide distrust in the GOP, as well as because of Biden and his administration’s work. In the last two years, he’s passed the popular American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs and Inflation Reduction acts, all of which have played crucial roles in domestic politics and American lives. He’s also tackled the COVID-19 crisis, rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and signed or reauthorized several bills with bipartisan support, including the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Impact on Biden’s foreign policy:

While President Biden continues to have the strongest role in deciding U.S. foreign policy, Congress, particularly the Senate, plays a strong role in how foreign policy decisions are made. There are a few key areas where the Democrats’ holding onto the Senate might empower Biden to make new foreign policy decisions.

While aid for Ukraine started out as a largely bipartisan effort, it has slowly become more and more divisive as the war drags on. Republican voters have largely soured on giving aid to Ukraine. As a result, Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said that Ukraine shouldn’t expect a “blank check.” 

As U.S. aid for Ukraine has been pivotal in Ukraine’s war effort, Pres. Zelenskyy is likely breathing a sigh of relief. An emboldened Biden has a far greater ability to pressure Russia. Biden has expressed optimism surrounding negotiations over a prisoner swap for Brittney Griner. As Biden has renewed support from the Senate, he has a far greater ability to carry through and provide strength to promises and threats, and Russia has clearly seen this.

Biden has shown himself to be incredibly pro-Taiwan. While official U.S. policy is not likely to change, Biden has shown strong resolve to defend Taiwan from mainland Chinese intrusion. Biden has repeatedly moved beyond the vague commitments to defend Taiwan that were characteristic of his predecessor and has said that the United States would come to Taiwan’s side in the event of an attack in no uncertain terms. 

The Democrats’ midterm win allows Biden to continue to credibly commit to this strong rhetoric. The Democrats have also shown a strong commitment to helping the United States-Taiwan economic relationship. 

For example, the recently-passed CHIPS and Science Act has promoted renewed investment by Taiwanese firms in the United States computer chip manufacturing industry, hoping to shift production away from mainland China. Should Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) win Taiwan’s upcoming midterm elections, the United States-Taiwan relationship will likely continue to improve, countering the political interests of mainland China.

One of the biggest stories surrounding the midterms has been the historic shift in the Latino vote. While the predicted massive surge toward the Republicans did not pan out, Latinos, particularly those of Cuban and Venezuelan descent, voted heavily in favor of the Republicans. 

Courting these voters has been a key strategy for both parties, in an effort to control what used to be a critical swing state, Florida. The loss of this key demographic might cause the Democrats to shift their policy on these Latin American countries. 

Specifically, Biden might accelerate talks to open the United States to Venezuelan oil. Now that Venezuelans are out of the spotlight, Biden has more leeway to pursue diplomacy, which might be unpopular with Venezuelans in the United States. In a similar vein, Biden could weaken the blockade of Cuba, trading the Cuban voting block for economic growth.

The midterms have especially empowered Biden on climate policy. While results did not come in soon enough to factor into Biden’s COP27 appearance, the Democrats have historically been friendly to climate policy. The Inflation Reduction Act has led to significant investments in greener technologies and clean energy production. 

Furthermore, the United States’ renewed commitment to the Paris climate agreement has given it greater pull in international climate negotiations. Democrats also had great victories in state and local elections this election cycle, allowing them to implement on-the-ground climate policies that reduce emissions and boost the United States’ image as an increasingly climate-friendly country. The United States will likely see greater gains in future climate talks.

As much as foreign policy is treated as independent from domestic policy, the two are irrevocably intertwined. 

Biden has traced a narrow path when talking with U.S. allies. While the war in Ukraine and other global challenges have strengthened the NATO alliance, the United States continues its trend toward protectionism that started under Trump. While Biden hasn’t implemented any flashy new tariffs, economic policies like the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS and Science Act have provided massive subsidies to U.S. businesses. 

The European Union has already tried to hit back at U.S. subsidies for computer chips with subsidies of their own. With growing bipartisan support for protectionism only being strengthened by the Democrats’ midterm election success, the United States might continue to strain economic ties with its close allies.

Nowhere did the United States lose more ground with its allies than over the issue of abortion. After the Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, world leaders from The United Kingdom, France, Canada, Mexico and Sierra Leone were quick to condemn the decision. More recently, several domestic and international organizations had called for an investigation into how the Dobbs decision might violate the United States’ treaty commitments. 

However, the strong repudiation of this decision, both in who is elected to national office as well as in state referenda in Kentucky, Vermont, Michigan, Montana, and California, will likely help to change the United States’ image on the world stage. While Democrats likely lack the support to enshrine the protections of Roe into national law, a quick return to equilibrium after the Dobbs decision might repair the damage already done.

The midterms have revealed that unified policy is not out of reach in a politically divided United States. Voters have overwhelmingly supported Democrats in a conservative-leaning national environment, likely rewarding them for their policy victories. 

This public endorsement of a unified policy agenda will help the United States to recover from the internal division of the Trump era. Biden has consistently raised the United States’ image abroad. Being rewarded for building unifying policies will only strengthen the United States’ image abroad, in spite of its combative economic policy.

What Do the Midterms Mean for 2024?

  1. Democrats did better than expected, and this may mean that President Biden and his policies are residing with voters. Instead of the Democratic Party searching for a fresh face, Democrats may want Biden to run for reelection. Other reasons the Democrats faired better than expected in the midterms may be because of ideological differences within the GOP, a growing American distrust in far-right candidates, the rise in the number of Gen-Z voters, and most importantly, the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade.
  2. On the other hand, this election solidified numerous possibilities for presidential candidates. On the Republican side, Florida’s Ron DeSantis won in a landslide and he is now one of the biggest possible Republican contenders for president in 2024.
  3. These midterms highlight Donald Trump’s loosening grip on American GOP politics. Although many of his endorsements ended up winning elections, more lost. Even though many in the GOP have expressed dislike for Trump running again, and the election results show a surge of anti-Trumpism, on November 15th, Trump announced his bid for president in 2024. His biggest opponent so far and a strong Republican contender, DeSantis, may cost Trump his shot at being the next Republican nominee for president, as some disillusioned members in the GOP seek to strengthen their Republican base with a more appealing and less polarizing candidate.

Closing Thoughts

The 2022 midterms highlight the unpredictability of politics and elections. Democrats held off a “red wave,” even though they lost the House, largely due to Gen-Z, which voted in unprecedented numbers.

As we gear up for 2024, it’s important to consider these important shifts in American politics — away from QAnon and MAGA, and, amongst many other things, towards protecting the right to abortion, fighting against climate change, and in favor of Gen-Z. 

Biden’s administration and the Democrats might be more likely to ensure that their agenda and vision do not fall by the wayside. The Democrats will continue to be able to approve judges and other appointed federal officials to office, and will also have much more strength to shape foreign policy, in addition to furthering domestic policy that remains important for democrats.

Conclusively, the midterms ended on a significant note for Democrats. Against all odds, the United States will just have to wait and see if the Democrats can accomplish their policy goals and promises leading up to 2024.