Listen: A political scientist's take on the Nebraska midterm results

Nov. 9, 2022, 3:52 p.m. ·

Professor Kevin Smith in a blue shirt with a red and blue striped tie in front of a background with photos of others on it.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Political Science professor Kevin Smith. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Smith)

Now that the election is over, it is apparent that the outcome landed squarely in favor of the state's Republican Party. Nebraska Public Media News reporter William Padmore and University of Nebraska Political Science Professor Dr. Kevin Smith break down the results and what they could mean for Nebraska’s future. 

William Padmore: Tuesday's results seem to indicate that an already red state, Nebraska, is trending even more to the right than it already was. Why? And to what do Republicans owe their long-lasting domination of the state?

Kevin Smith: Well, you know, we're a deep red ruby state, because there's a lot of conservative voters in here. And, you know, the political parties have essentially aligned along ideological divisions. And that's a trend that sort of got started way back in the 1980s. And, you know, we're kind of at its logical end now that more conservative voters, kind of instinctually vote Republican and more liberal voters instinctually vote Democrat. And in the state of Nebraska, you have, you know, many more instinctually conservative voters, and I don't think it's any more complicated than that.

Padmore: It seems likely that Republicans will gain a filibuster-proof majority in the unicameral in the upcoming session. If that pans out, what policies can we expect to see? Off the top of my head I can think of a strict framework for photo ID requirements but how about you?

Smith: I think that's certainly true, William. There's also, I think, a reasonable probability of tighter abortion restrictions in Nebraska with that filibuster-proof, majority. Concealed carry might be something that makes a comeback and stands a greater chance of passing. You know, Jim Pillen ran on a platform that had several points related to education. So we might see something like, you know, a change in school funding allocations, maybe something along the lines of a school choice policy. A Republican governor has a lot more leeway with their policy agenda, if they don't have to worry about the minority in the legislature, essentially, acting as or exercising a veto.

Padmore: Speaking of Governor-elect Pillen, he handily won his raise against challenger Carol Blood by more than 20 points, I believe, all while refusing to debate or sit down for endorsement interviews with major newspapers. So what's the takeaway about traditions like debates and endorsements? And what do they mean in Nebraska now?

Smith: Well, I think the key takeaway lesson there is that if you are a Republican candidate running for statewide office in Nebraska, what is the upside to debating? I mean, Pillen demonstrates that you can win extremely handily without exposing yourself to a potential mistake, or gaffe, or line of attack from an opponent that could eat into your electoral margin. So I think that's the big message there. Why debate when there's not much to gain? When statewide races are running in Republican’s favor, you know, well into double-digit margins?

Padmore: I do want to end with the Democrats because they were the losers, this cycle, at least in Nebraska. Now, it seems every cycle of Democrats in the state get all worked up and every cycle, they end up disappointed. Democratic power outside of a few large cities is virtually nonexistent in the state. So what do Democrats who want to see their priorities enacted? At this point, keep trying for ballot measures? get Tom Osborne to endorse a candidate? Move? What do you think?

Smith: Well, you could do worse in the state of Nebraska than getting Tom Osborne to endorse what you're trying to do! I think that would be a tough sell for the Democrats. But if they can pull that off, more power to them. I mean, obviously, the big thing that Democrats have to do to be more successful is to start with connecting with independent voters. And increasingly, they're going to have to connect with Republican voters. And that's just simple math because that's where the margin of victory is. Could Democrats peel off some suburban Republicans, especially, like, suburban Republican women who have concerns about abortion? I mean, I think those are get-able targets. But no one should underestimate the significance of the challenge and the mountain that Democrats have to climb in Nebraska, especially when you're talking statewide or bigger political jurisdictions like congressional districts. I mean, the bottom line is, there's simply more Republicans than Democrats and people tend to vote pretty up and down the ticket, their party identification