Though turnout rates have historically been lower during midterm elections, college students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison came out to vote and take in Tuesday's election results at higher numbers than previous midterms.
Members of the Wisconsin Union’s Society and Politics committee capped off a series of election-related talks with a viewing event at the Marquee Cinema Tuesday night. The event featured live analysis from a panel discussion led by political science professors David Canon and Kenneth Mayer, as well as journalism and mass communications professor Mike Wagner.
The event was co-sponsored by the Tommy G. Thompson Center for Public Leadership.
Though the national forecasts of Republicans holding on to their Senate majority and the Democrats taking back the House of Representatives rang true, many students fresh off of the results of the 2016 presidential election were unsure of what to predict would happen.
“One of the things people don’t necessarily realize is that as people, we are really terrible at assigning probability,” Mayer told a crowd of students. “That’s why you see such massive shifts in the forecasts as the first election results come in. It’s the vote count that matters.”
Several Society and Politics committee members, including UW-Madison students Jacob McInnis, Nour Hatoum and Ryan Bergal, spent much of Tuesday at Union South and the Memorial Union helping students conquer the basics of voting, from helping find the right polling places to making sure students had the right documents to register.
“It felt good to be able to help answer questions that you might not necessarily think about like, ‘Can I vote at any polling location?’” said Hatoum, a senior.
For Hatoum, many of his peers cared deeply about issues related to education and health care, both of which drove Gov. Scott Walker and Tony Evers’ campaign messages.
Wagner noted during the panel that Evers particularly focused much of his advertising dollars on health care-related messaging.
"Some things like where the economy is at and the president's job approval rating are things that candidates cannot change," Wagner said. "But one thing they can control is what they spend their money on, which gets into what some of the different party strategies are."
Despite the focus on education and health care, Bergal noted that students still had a wide range of interests when it came to the election, and its results will have an impact on them as well.
“Results of the election impact students in different ways,” said Bergal, a junior. “A lot of students worked for candidates in this election, whether it was the governor’s race or for local offices on both sides of the political spectrum. So I think it’s no surprise that students have been motivated.”
For McInnis, 2018 was the first time he was able to witness an election while on a college campus.
“It’s been a really interesting experience, and pretty cool just being in Madison because there has been so much political action,” McInnis said. “What really motivated me in this election was knowing that the election could have big implications due to administering the 2020 census.”
Canon said the national results were somewhat near the norm historically. The only times in the past century that a president’s party has not lost congressional seats was when there were historical anomalies such as the Great Depression and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
However, Canon stressed that a variety of issues have captured enthusiasm among students at UW-Madison.
“Despite that, we are watching closely to see how large the youth turnout ends up being,” Canon said. “Young people are concerned about issues such as education and health care like much of the country, but they’re also looking to the future and want a strong economy.”