U.S. midterms have local impact

The midterm election results from Nov. 8 show surprising changes for Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island and the country as a whole.

Emily Lynch, an assistant teaching professor of political science, said that one of the most surprising outcomes of the election was the lack of a “red wave,” or a large amount of Republican victories.

Lynch mentioned the RI second congressional district (CD-2) election between Democrat Seth Magaziner and Republican Allan Fung, one of the only races in the state where the Republican Party had a fighting chance at winning.

“Looking at Rhode Island,” Lynch said, “There was a lot of discussion over the CD-2 race because Fung was a quality challenger. Overall, other than that one race, we’re a one-party state, so that remains, it hasn’t changed.”

Despite the tight race, Magaziner won the race with 50.5% or 100,919 votes with Fung behind at 46.8% or 93,637 votes, according to the New York Times (NYT), which has reported >95% of the votes as of Nov. 14.

Lynch mentioned that before the election, Magaziner came to URI for the “2022 Second Congressional District Candidate Forum” where he talked about wanting to create more jobs in Rhode Island.

“It’s something that will be helpful for students as they graduate URI and are looking for careers and hopefully thinking about staying in Rhode Island for those jobs,” Lynch said.

Statewide, there were three questions on the ballot for Rhode Islanders to vote on and all three were approved. According to the NYT, question one about issuing bonds for URI Bay Campus improvements was approved by 58%. Question two about issuing bonds for public school construction and renovations was approved by 73% and question three about issuing environmental and recreational bonds was approved by 67%.

Lynch said that the approval of all three measures will benefit URI in the long run. She said question three goes hand in hand with one of the University’s main goals of creating a more sustainable future and that question two will improve education at the K-12 level in Rhode Island, many of whom will apply to URI and bring the impacts of that refined education system with them.

“[Question one] is a huge win for the University of Rhode Island,” Lynch said. “Where the funding will go directly to our campus, supporting the blue economy and, hopefully, it will lead to more job creation, innovation and more opportunities for students.”

Peter Hanlon, director of public engagement for the Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) at the URI Bay Campus, said that the bond will impact more than just the GSO.

“The GSO has the largest footprint here [the URI Bay Campus] but it’s not just the GSO,” Hanlon said. “There’s the department of ocean engineering, CELS [the college of the environment and life sciences] and some other departments that have a little bit of a footprint. In addition to that, even beyond URI, there’s about 12 other organizations involved here, the state and federal government, private companies and nonprofits.”

Hanlon said that the bond is phase two in The Narragansett Bay Campus Master Plan created in 2016. 

Phase one was primarily funded by a 2018 bond, according to Hanlon, which included building a new pier on the Bay Campus, which is currently nearing completion, a new research vessel owned by the National Science Foundation that will be in the new pier and a new ocean robotics laboratory.

Hanlon said that phase two will consist of two main projects — repairing Horn Laboratory and building new buildings for the department of ocean engineering — both of which he says are suffering in their old age.

According to Hanlon, these projects will also have a significant impact on the blue economy, or the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, job development and preserving the ocean ecosystem health

“It’s a really important part of the Rhode Island economy,” Hanlon said. “We had a study a couple years ago that said it’s about a $5 million sector of the economy for Rhode Island and I think, by 2030, that’s predicted to double. 

Hanlon said that this work and research done at the Bay Campus will impact both oceanography students and Rhode Islanders with no connections to the campus.

“Those who are studying here directly will be really part of the backbone, frankly, of that economy as it moves forward,” Hanlon said. “And that’s going to generate benefits for the entire state, and for other students here as well, because that will just help raise the reputation of URI and help really with job growth and economic development here in the state.”

Although question one and other election results will have a large impact on college students, Lynch said that she hasn’t seen a big increase in the number of student voters.

“It’s important to consider that what we’ve seen so far with exit polls,” Lynch said. “Is that the share of young voters has not really changed since previous elections, it’s been about the same. So you haven’t seen young voters mobilize, but what you have seen is that they’re overwhelmingly supportive of the Democratic candidate.”

Lynch mentioned that in 2018, data from that midterm election showed a large young adult turnout, especially compared to this year’s results.

“I noticed when I was teaching, there was a time [2018] when students were really engaged in politics,” Lynch said. “And it could be due to the divisiveness of politics at that time, you know, with Trump being president at that time.”

Since the young adult voting turnout is largely Democratic, the younger generation could have skipped out on this election because of the safety they feel with the current Democratic president, Joe Biden. 

Lynch also said the reason for this turnout could be because there tends to be a lot more interest in presidential elections, so there are fewer students engaged, just as with the rest of the electorates, because it’s a midterm election.

If voting was made more accessible and more political information was readily available to young adults, Lynch said there could be an increase in political interest and voting numbers from the younger generations in future elections.