One of the pleasures of my job is commissioning stories that debunk conventional wisdom. Reality – especially political reality – is often more complex and less clear than the definitive explanations uttered by pundits. Take the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections. Commentators pronounced the results were due to voters’ concern about abortion. Or immigration. Or fear of losing U.S. democracy. Or the repudiation of MAGA Republicanism. Or the outcome was determined by Gen Z voter turnout.

All those interpretations have some degree of merit, writes political philosopher Robert Talisse of Vanderbilt University. But they’re off the mark, he says, because you simply can’t rake all those voters into a pile and say an election reflects “the will of the people.”

“It’s not that democracy falls short of discerning the people’s will, but rather that there is no collective will to express,” writes Talisse. “There’s only a mess of inputs, a counting procedure and a result. Consequently, the idea that the result of a large-scale election could amount to an ‘endorsement’ or ‘repudiation’ of a candidate’s or party’s agenda is largely a myth.”

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Naomi Schalit

Democracy Editor

Voters in the midterm elections decided that the GOP would run the House, while the Democrats would run the Senate. Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

Midterm election results reflect the hodgepodge of US voters, not the endorsement or repudiation of a candidate’s or party’s agenda

Robert B. Talisse, Vanderbilt University

Lots has been said about the 2022 US midterm elections. But a scholar of democracy says there’s really only one conclusion that can be made about how voters behaved.

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