It’s a commonly employed political cliché that every election is “the most important election of your lifetime.” But this time, the cliché may be appropriate. Not because of who wins or loses a particular race or even majorities in the House and Senate, but because of the complex and rapidly evolving set of challenges from domestic and foreign actors that are putting our democratic system to the test.

At the core of these issues is the erosion of trust in our democratic process that’s fueled by ever increasing polarization and autocratic politics. This manifests in threats to election workers, political violence, fragmentation of the information space, and a general lack of civility in politics.

The challenges can seem overwhelming, but key players like local law enforcement, the federal government, media, and election officials are working to bolster our democratic system ahead of Election Day. Individuals can contribute to the effort by voting, volunteering at the polls, taking responsibility for information they share online, and giving fellow citizens the benefit of the doubt.

Welcome to Monitoring the Midterms, a special newsletter from the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund that provides analysis at the nexus of US politics and autocratic threats to democracy. Reach out with questions, reactions, or suggestions.

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New from ASD at GMF

ASD at GMF Emerging Tech Fellow Lindsay Gorman and Nash Miller looked at how candidates are using TikTok and the national security challenge that poses in Not Just Dance Videos: How Candidates are Using TikTok in the US Midterms. They found:

  • A new platform for US politics: With rare exceptions, candidate TikTok accounts were created following the 2020 elections, and many only recently started to publish political content. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, TikTok is a relatively new entrant to US political and election discourse, with few road-tested election policies.
  • Democrats more than Republicans: Thirty-four percent of Democratic candidates in Senate, House, governor, and secretary of state races have TikTok accounts, compared to 12 percent of Republican candidates in these races. The Democratic National Committee, which has its own TikTok account, has promoted the platform’s use among Democratic candidates.
  • Federal races: Almost 30 percent of major party candidates in Senate races have a TikTok account (47 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans). One-fifth of all major party House candidates have an account on the platform (30 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans).

ASD at GMF Information Manipulation Fellow Bret Schafer found additional signs of the fracturing of the online information space, with Republican candidates on Twitter regularly promoting their accounts on conservative social media platforms—most notably, GETTR, Truth Social, and Rumble. Democrats, however, were far more likely to promote their TikTok accounts than Republicans. Read more in the latest Midterm Monitor analysis, which covers allegations of Big Tech “interference” and “Zuckerbucks” on the right, as well as the media and Democratic candidates’ disproportionate focus on election deniers.

ASD at GMF Director Laura Thornton wrote about Arizona’s democracy challenges in The Daily Beast explaining, “There was a painful recognition that no matter what they [election officials] did, or however many hoops they jump through—going above and beyond the best practices demanded of them—it will never be enough. The lies and conspiracies are a bottomless well, and for each theory they debunk… another emerges.”

State Midterm Monitor Wrap-Up

We’ve pulled Midterm Monitor data around key battleground states in the lead up to the election. Check it out:

Arizona: Midterm contests in Arizona are drawing a lot of national media attention. Among monitored national media outlets and pundits, Arizona was the second most mentioned state (after Georgia) in election-related Facebook and Instagram posts between September 14 and October 13. Of the 67 Tweets made by monitored media outlets or candidates containing the term “election denier” between October 1 and 19, 17 (25 percent) were made by or about candidates in Arizona or made general reference to election denialism in Arizona.

Georgia: The investigation into the alleged breach of voting equipment in Coffee County, Georgia was also the subject of at least 40 tweets from local news outlets and 20 tweets from traditional, national news outlets, but it received little mention from conservative outlets and pundits—including those most active in covering election administration and election security concerns.

Michigan: GOP secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo received roughly three times more comments (991) and likes (19,604) than any other monitored secretary of state candidate between September 22 and October 21 on Instagram. She was also responsible for the top eight most liked posts on Instagram, several of which promoted claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Karamo’s Rumble channel, where she has created a video series dedicated to the alleged improprieties of her opponent, received more than double the views of any monitored candidate nationwide.

Pennsylvania: An analysis of links shared by Pennsylvania candidates found that Republicans and Democrats shared articles from largely—though not entirely—different information sources. For both Democrat and Republican candidates, the two most shared local news sites were the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Among national media outlets, Fox News was the only domain among the top ten most shared domains by both Republicans and Democrats.

Wisconsin: Although political issues like abortion and crime dominated election-related coverage by word count, four of the five most retweeted election-related tweets from local media outlets between August 13 and September 13, 2022 focused on election fraud. According to Brennan Center analysis, local media Twitter accounts in Wisconsin had the second highest word count for mentions of “fraud” behind Florida and the highest incidence for “decertification” and “election fraud”—despite having significantly fewer outlets and total Twitter posts compared to local media being monitored in states like Florida and Texas.

Resources You Should Have

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Rumor vs. Reality webpage is designed to provide accurate and reliable information related to common mis-, dis-, and malinformation narratives and themes that relate broadly to the security of election infrastructure.

A Big Idea

“As sheriffs and Americans, we have two important messages. First, to anyone threatening or harassing election officials or voters: Stop. Second, to election officials, election workers, volunteers and voters: We have your back.”

  • Peter J. Koutoujian, sheriff of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and Justin Smith, sheriff of Larimer County, Colorado wrote in NBC Think.

 Check out all of ASD at GMF’s work on the US midterms here.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.