Exterior view of the Capitol in Washington, DC, the building of the United States Congress.

It's all about democracy

The Republican "red wave" in the midterm elections in the United States failed to materialize. This is also due to the fact that many young people voted. Their goal: to defend democracy. The final result will probably not be known for a few weeks. But Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, transatlantic expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, has already identified the key findings in her analysis.

Contact Person

Foto Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook
Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook
Senior Advisor


The Republican "red wave" in the midterm elections in the United States failed to materialize. America's youngest and newest voters, whose turnout looks to be historic, and its minorities – women, African-Americans and Latinos – still threw their support behind Democratic candidates over Republicans. Their goal: the defense of democracy itself. While the final vote count in certain constituencies will not be known for several weeks, not least because the state of Georgia is heading to a special run-off election on December 6, the "democracy" argument seems to have been a key issue that drove voters to the polls.

Our eupinions survey previously showed that more than half of U.S. citizens had concerns about the functioning of their democracy. In another poll by the news organizations NPR and PBS, 42% of Democrats said that preserving democracy was the primary factor driving their voting decisions.

The share of the youth vote (18-29) in this election over the last for Democrats alone was 28% higher – on average, young voters cast their votes for Democratic candidates over Republicans by a double margin. Their high turnout rate was a significant reason why the expected Republican "red wave" did not rise as high as expected. Indeed, it appears to be subsiding further as the counting continues. Even days after the election, the outcome is still neck-and-neck.

Harsh times still ahead

During the election campaign, Republicans announced they would make blocking the Biden administration's agenda their main goal. A series of investigative committees that, without real practical policy impact (for example, one panel would address the possible political and financial ties of the president's son, Hunter Biden) could bring actual policy making to a standstill by pre-occupying bureaucratic energy.  

The climate is likely to become much more combative and unforgiving, or even revenge-driven, as a large share of Trump supporters in the House of Representatives continue to adhere to the lie of the "stolen" election of 2020 and now want to make a public display of their political power.

However, their political stance could also have tangible international policy implications. Kevin McCarthy, who could become speaker of the House under a Republican majority, has announced that he would increase scrutiny of America's significant flows of financial assistance to Ukraine. Just how fractious the climate becomes will also depend on which Republicans ultimately make it to the House of Representatives and how the Republicans position themselves in their own internal party disputes – for example, with "Make America Great Again" supporters making up a majority, or with "traditional" Republicans being sometimes willing to negotiate with the president.

Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, transatlantic expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Europe should prep now

Europeans should prepare well for the times ahead. For example, they may have to actively provide greater military and financial resources to Ukraine in the medium term. A second Trump presidency or the rise to power of a similarly isolationist Republican would also mean that Europe would largely have to provide for its own security needs in the future while fighting to carve out an independent economic position in the tensions between the U.S. and China.

European leaders must urgently work with the Biden administration to resolve the current political differences between Brussels and Washington – for instance, over the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act or in the discussions over detailed issues in the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council. They must lean in to strengthening the transatlantic partnership, particularly in the areas of technology, energy and the utilization of resources from steel to rare earth metals, to bolster the European economy in the medium term.

First candidates emerging for 2024 elections

Despite the overall poor performance of his chosen candidates, Donald Trump will most likely announce his candidacy for the next presidential election on November 15. For the ex-president, running for president serves as an insurance policy. He is currently facing 15 different legal processes simultaneously, and some of these proceedings would likely be put on hold while the election campaign is under way – lest investigations and trials seem politically motivated – allowing more of the "witch hunt" rhetoric. But Trump is also likely to have a formidable competitor within his own party. Ron DeSantis, the governor of the state of Florida, won reelection in a landslide. He is strong enough to run against Trump and can at the least make life difficult for the former president. He is already positioning himself for a possible campaign.

Among the Democrats, too, possible candidates for the 2024 presidential election are beginning to emerge. Over the summer, a New York Times poll of Democrats found that a majority would like to see the party field a younger candidate in the next campaign. California Governor Gavin Newsom has already dropped hints in this direction. During the midterms, he ran his own ads in defense of democracy in Texas and Florida – a clear signal that he has greater ambitions.

Before the midterms, the U.S. Department of Justice said it would officially monitor voting in more than 60 jurisdictions due to fears of potential disturbances, intimidation at the ballot box or other repressive acts. In the end, election day passed quietly. Nonetheless, American democracy remains in peril. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon's strategy of placing MAGA supporters and 2020 election deniers in key positions, from the lowest-level election officials to secretaries of state, seems not to have been successful. America's democracy is far from safe.