The main narrative in this year’s midterm elections has been that the Republican Party regained control of the Senate. President Obama acknowledged the significance of that Congressional takeover in a speech soon after the results were confirmed, lending an obligatory “I hear you” to voters. Yet other election results of social significance have been overshadowed by the GOP victory. Marijuana has been legalized in Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C. Five states voted for increases in minimum wage. The constitutionality of state-wide gay marriage bans is still being debated in the courts, regardless of which new representatives are on their way to Washington.
FiveThirtyEight writer Ben Casselman wrote a popular tweet describing the seemingly incongruous outcomes of the midterms: “So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation. Ok then.”
That tweet accurately encapsulates how Americans voted, but it may not be as absurd as it seems. Sure, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Alaska all elected Republican leaders while still voting for a minimum wage increase. D.C.’s marijuana legalization will likely go uncontested by the Republican-led Congress during their review of the law. That doesn’t mean voters don’t know what they’re doing, it just means change is occurring at local levels just as the GOP would like it to.
Especially if minimum wage increases and marijuana legalization go uncontested by the Republican leadership, it will represent party’s move towards a more libertarian platform of federal skepticism with an emphasis on state rights. It'd be an even bigger victory for a party that seems strong again, mainly because it’s embraced the values of the Tea Party and its younger libertarian members rather than attempting to fight them.
Although the GOP is certainly less splintered, its more traditional views regarding social issues still linger. A Republican majority inevitably means fundamental opposition to abortion, gun control and gay marriage. In fact, Salon estimates that the previous majority of 56 Senators who supported gay marriage has dropped to 49 as a result of the midterm elections. Gay marriage hit another roadblock today, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed a previous ruling against gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The fact that the battle for gay marriage is being fought in the courts means that the midterm elections may ultimately have little say in how the social issue progresses, but it’s not a good sign when the party in charge is also in opposition. The GOP’s midterm victories shouldn’t affect marriage equality, but somehow you get the feeling that it will. Hopefully the libertarian freedoms of state rights will remain in check by the federal court system to ensure that civil rights of all the nation’s citizens are not infringed upon.