Wildcard Midterms: A Discussion with Political Science Professor Dr. Matt Kerbel


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Many question what the outcome of this upcoming election will be

Cate McCusker, Senior Editor

Matthew R. Kerbel, Ph.D., has been a professor in Villanova’s Political Science Department since 1988 and was the department chair from 2012 to 2019. Dr. Kerbel is well versed in politics, and The Villanovan sat down with him to discuss the upcoming election.

Dr. Kerbel explained that he could not accurately predict the results of the election, but that he could characterize the election for students.

“I’m much better at making predictions after the fact,” he joked.

Traditionally, midterm elections are favorable for the political party who just lost the presidential race. Due to historic precedent, many people earlier in the year had predicted a “red wave,” or a large number of Republicans to be voted into office, which will lead the Republicans to win the House and Senate. However, this year is different.

“And I think if this were a normal year, that might have happened,” Dr. Kerbel said. “But one thing that you probably realize is our politics really hasn’t been normal for a very long time.”

Kerbel described three wildcard factors that could make this year different than the past. The first wildcard is none other than former President Donald Trump. Kerbel explained that it was rare for a one term president who just lost an election to be embraced by his party and remain at the center of politics.

“I can’t think of another time that’s happened,” he said. “It didn’t happen to George HW Bush. It didn’t happen to Jimmy Carter after he was defeated. This is an extraordinarily rare thing.”

Additionally, Trump has had a lot of influence over the Republican candidates in the election, which may not be a good thing for the Republicans.

“They have a lot of candidates who appeal to the Republican base, but who are a harder sell to the general electorate,” he said. “That puts Republicans potentially at a disadvantage.”

The second wildcard is January 6th. Kerbel believes that this could affect not only the voter turnout, but also how voters think when they head to the polls.

The third wildcard is the Dobbs case. Over the summer, the conservative majority in the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that declared it was a constitutional right to have an abortion. The decision to take away this right has caused uproar across the country that could translate into votes.

Based on these three wildcard factors, Kerbel isn’t certain that we will see a red wave in the midterms. Instead he believes this election cycle may be more like a red tide.

“Instead of a red wave, what I’m seeing is kind of a ‘red tide,’ that’s being propelled by normal midterm forces, by high inflation and the economy, and then pulling against that is what I call the ‘blue undertow’…which is being propelled by those wildcard factors,” he said.

At the end of the day, Kerbel sees two electorates clashing at the ballot box. One electorate is propelled by loyalty to Trump or by normal midterm behaviors against the incumbent party, and the other electorate is afraid of losing rights and sees Republicans as out of step with the mainstream.

We can predict, we can surmise, and we can guess, but what this all boils down to is that we still don’t know what will happen next week. Yet right now, the one thing we can do is something Dr. Kerbel wanted all of the Villanova community to hear.

“Just get out there and vote.”