Congress is Divided, and so is the Media: 2018 Midterm Coverage

On election night, the Democrats won the majority in the House of Representatives, taking at least 30 seats from the Republicans. The Republicans won the majority in the Senate, flipping at least two seats in their favor.

The results of this election have many people thinking that the U.S. is more divided now than ever. As much as this polarization is exemplified in Congress itself, it’s also evident in the media coverage of specific races across the country.

Politicians and publications alike used the “blue wave” as a big source of motivation to get Democratic voters to the polls to flip seats belonging to Republican representatives.

But despite all the noise surrounding this blue wave, few publications made predictions on Tuesday for what they thought would happen in the coming hours. The New York Times live forecast of the election didn’t start making predictions until around 9 p.m. on election night, three hours after the first polling places closed.

Some news networks, like CNN and ABC, were cautious in their coverage of the election and didn’t jump to make any drastic calls without substantial results. The timidness of these networks may have been due to the results of the 2016 election. Many networks assumed Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, only to be proven wrong by the end of election night.

On CNN, Van Jones called the results “heartbreaking” and made the assertion that “this is not a blue wave.”

On ABC News, George Stephanopoulos claimed that Democrats were having a “disappointing night.”
While traditionally liberal outlets were debating the possible negative outcomes of the night, Fox News was the first of any major networks to call the Democratic win in the House.

Jones and Stephanopoulos jumped to conclusions before the majority of votes were in because races that the Democrats had planned on winning weren’t bringing in the results that they had hoped. Both seemed to be undermining the blue wave in case it didn’t come.

After the night of the election, the coverage continued to be politically polarized surrounding key elections. Conservative sources focused on the victory of the Senate and what this meant for Trump. Liberal sources focused more on the victory of the House of Representatives and how the blue wave had indeed arrived.

The media also played a crucial role in the races that received nationwide attention.


Georgia Gubernatorial Race: Stacey Abrams & Brian Kemp

Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp made headlines the day following the election after Abrams refused to concede. Not all of the votes had been counted yet and with suspicions that Kemp had suppressed voters, Abrams insisted that all the votes to be counted.

The Atlantic published an article about Abrams’ attempt to rally the black community of Georgia and how her success in the race points to a changing Georgia. The article goes on to talk about Kemp’s attempt to suppress voters leading up to this election.

On the contrary, Fox News featured a story on the front page of their website that showcased a picture of Abrams and a tag that read “Sore loser?” The article says that she refuses to concede despite trailing Kemp.

This election was one that had gained attention throughout campaigning because of the voter suppression as well as the attention it got for a potential black women governing Georgia.


Kentucky 6th: Andy Barr & Amy McGrath

The race between Andy Barr and Amy McGrath was a key election for Democrats that got a lot of attention as results started to roll in. It seemed to be that if McGrath won it would mean a good night for the Democrats and if Barr won it would mean Trump was still favored in Kentucky.

After CNN projected Barr to win the seat, Jake Tapper told his viewers that “this is not a blue wave.” CNN had been fixated on this race from the beginning of the night as a projection for the House makeup and sentiment in the country overall.

The New York Times reported on this race as a proxy race between Trump and the Democratic Party. Barr’s win proved that the Democrats couldn’t “win over white working class voters in rural areas.” This was a win for the Republican Party, even if they didn’t win over the House.

Other publications pointed to this race as one of the ways the Republican Party pushed up against the blue wave and how Barr’s use of attack ads might have given him the advantage in this race.


Missouri Senate Seat: Claire McCaskill & Josh Hawley

While stumping for Josh Hawley, Trump told Missouri voters not to vote for McCaskill because of her decisions on the tax bill and the two most recently appointed Supreme Court Justices.

According to the Hill, days after Claire McCaskill lost her seat in the Senate, she claimed Fox News was a “state-owned news channel.” She accused the network of impacting Missouri voters by pushing Trump’s message.

In an article following McCaskill’s concession, Fox News also focused on painting McCaskill as an outsider in the Democratic Party and capitalized on her use of the word “crazy” to describe her colleagues Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The New Yorker published an article urging Democrats to not give up on Missouri and attributed most of Hawley’s win to the fact that Trump has visited Missouri seven times since August 2017.


Texas Senate Seat: Ted Cruz & Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke came closer to a Texas Senate seat than any Democrat has in 40 years. This election received a lot of attention leading up to the midterms because of both Beto O’Rourke’s charismatic personality and the fact that the race had the potential to flip a seat in a traditionally deep red state. The race also received widespread attention on social media and a big celebrity endorsement.

Leading up to the election, two of Texas’ biggest newspapers endorsed O’Rourke: The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle. Both publications are known to be right-leaning and gave O’Rourke’s campaign a boost.

Despite the positive coverage O’Rourke received, it wasn’t enough to unseat Senator Cruz on election night.

The El Paso Times wrote an article about O’Rourke’s loss as a stepping stone for the Democratic Party. It may be a sign that Texas is becoming more liberal and may change its position of being a reliably red state in future elections.

It may be possible that Texas’ deep red roots are shifting to form a ‘purple’ state. According to the Texas Observer, Beto’s traction, as well as the performance of other congressional races in Texas, is proof that Texas is purple. In addition, the shifting demographics of Texas may change the political makeup of the state in the near future.

During this midterm election cycle, journalists were much more cautious in the way they covered the races on election night. Liberal media sources tended to be more timid in their projection of the race results, as a result of the surprising outcome of the 2016 election.

Following the election, the coverage mirrored the deep divide that the U.S. is facing in Congress. Liberal and conservative publications supported their own narratives and expressed support for their favored candidates.

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