Shit you should care about … the midterm elections
No doubt you’ve heard people talking about the US midterm elections. You’re probably thinking, “what does this mean?” and more importantly, “do we get to finally get rid of Donald Trump?” Unfortunately, no, Trump stays… BUT, the midterm elections do provide some pretty wild opportunities that can completely affect which party holds the majority of power in U.S politics.
So, give this guide a little read if you want to educate yourself on what it all means.
Back to basics
American politics is dominated by two major parties – the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party applies a conservative ideology whereas the Democratic Party is more liberal and progressive.
Currently the primary party in power in the United States is the Republican Party. Led by President Donald Trump, the party also holds a majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
The Democratic Party fronted by Barack Obama won two elections, in 2008 and 2012. In 2016, Hillary Clinton led the party for what everybody thought was a sure win, but was beaten by Trump.
What are the midterm elections, and why are they so important?
The midterm elections occur every four years, two years into the president’s four-year term. This year it falls on November 6th. While voters do not decide who runs the country this time round, they are voting on a number of very important decisions. This is where it gets a little confusing.
Registered individuals will vote on different ballots depending on their state. Below is everything that is this year’s election will offer:
435 seats in the House of Representatives – Members of the house serve two-year terms.
35 seats of the 100 seats that make up the Senate – Senators serve staggered six-year terms where one third of the senate are up for election every two years.
36 state governorship roles, three U.S. territory governors and many city Mayor roles.
6,073 state legislative seats will be up for grabs.
A number of referenda including abortion, health insurance, marijuana and voting laws.
Okay, let’s break this down a little bit
What the hell does this all mean?
Basically, the midterm elections give citizens of the United States the opportunity to assess how the last two years have played out, judging the adequacy of the President and the incumbent party. From there they can choose to vote for politicians from the dominant party (currently Republican) if they continue to support the members and their policies, or vote for oppositional party candidates (Democrats) if they are ideologically indifferent or feel as though the Republican party has not met the promises made in the 2016 election.
Although midterm voting is always lower than the general elections, this year’s midterms are already predicted to be historic. So far, early voter turnout has already surpassed previous records and a recent poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government indicated that 40% of youth voters said they would “definitely vote.” This is a major increase from the 19.9% that voted in the 2014 midterm elections.
Currently the Republican party holds control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. These are the two chambers that makes up the United States Congress. Congress is what controls the U.S legislative process, making laws and moving them through the system. For the Democratic party to win back control of either of these chambers, it requires at least 51 seats of the Senate and 218 seats of the House of Representatives to be held by Democratic politicians.
If voting is able to sway either the Senate or the House of Representatives to a Democratic majority then this will give the Democrats a major advantage in passing their own legislative agenda. They could block a number of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, build the wall, and cut welfare. It would also allow for the re-examination of Trump’s immigration policy and give the Democrats more power to investigate Trump on controversies such as Russian involvement in the election. In contrast, if the Republicans keep their majority, the can continue to push Trump’s conservative, xenophobic and repressive agenda.
It has been widely predicted by election polls that the Democrats are set to take back the House of Representatives. Currently they hold 193 seats and need to gain at least 25 seats to win the majority. Statistical analysis from election website ‘FiveThirtyEight’ gave the Democrats an 82% chance of winning back the house. This finding has been supported by a majority of news media outlets. However, Andrew Prokop writing for Vox, cautions to not forget the many toss ups and competitive races for seats in many Republican-held districts. According to Prokop, only around 12 seats are considered a sure-thing, while the other 13 needed are considerably more up in the air, with many of these relying on lean majorities or toss up seats that could go either way.
Democrats winning back the Senate is considered less likely; most predictions say that this will remain a Republican majority. This race is especially tough since the Democrats hold 26 of the 35 seats being contested in this election. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Republicans have a 66% chance of keeping its power. In conjunction with this, the Brett Kavanaugh scandal has apparently sparked enthusiasm in Republican voters who were previously complacent with their party’s political positioning.
However, a win of either chambers would make a significant difference in the negotiation and passing of laws through congress.
But what if the polls are wrong, AGAIN?!
It is important to remember how wrong the electoral predictions were in the 2016 presidential election. The polls had indicated the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s win ranging from 70 to 92 percent. In the polls, Trump was basically a joke. And yet here we are.
The American Association of Public Opinion Research put together an article to figure out what could have gone so damn wrong. The article indicated that it was the last-minute decisions that people made to vote for Trump – the polls missed out on these momentary shifts. For example, in the pivotal swing states of Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, an apparent 13% of their voters decided on their presidential pick in the final week before the elections, and all three states were won by Trump. The article’s head researcher Courtney Kennedy says polls need to be conducted in real time in order to catch this last-minute behavior.
Why should we care?
It’s easy to dismiss the election when you’ve got New Zealand as a cosy little security blanket, but there is definitely reason to pay attention to the results!
If the Democrats are able to gain more seats in Congress this could bring Trump’s protectionist trade policies to a halt. In the past two years the Republican majority has allowed Trump to slap tariffs (a type of tax) on billions of dollars of goods from some of the world’s largest economies. This includes China and the EU who have retaliated with levies on U.S goods.
Trump justified his actions through the ‘America First’ narrative. He says tariffs are needed to fight foreign trade practices that are stealing American jobs. Trump has argued that trade wars ‘good’ and ‘easy’. But certain economists reject this claim, warning that trade wars could lead to another recession, especially if this becomes increasingly heated between the U.S and China.
* To understand more about Trump, tariffs and trade wars, this link breaks it down.
However, Trump’s economic policy needs to pass through congress, and if the Republicans no longer hold the majority this is going to be much more difficult.
We should also care because we are human beings, and we should give a shit about the security of ALL humans – not just the white and privileged. While this is a race predominantly run by old men, the outcome affects real people. We should care if America continues to support a party who want to remove abortion rights, strip official recognition of transgender people, oppose same sex marriage and pursue cuts on social and welfare spending.
A race of identity politics?
It would be naive to say that identity politics does not play a significant role in this year’s midterm elections. More so from the tactical use of the Democrats, but it is also present in Republican strategy.
Identity politics is the focus on demographic characteristics rather than ideology. Political parties pursuing voters based on particular religions, race and social identities instead of an individual’s ideological positioning.
The Democrats boast a strong lineup of candidates that represent a range of diverse backgrounds. Nominated democratic candidates are likely to become the first female Native American, first female African American, and the first female Muslim in Congress. The first transgender woman is running for governor in Vermont and records have been set for the number of female, black and LGBTQ nominations. The democrats are hoping to appeal to marginalised and younger audiences by presenting a diverse and progressive future.
Meanwhile the diversity of Republican candidates is tenuous. As per, their nominees are overwhelmingly male, white and old. Pursuing white-identity politics, Republicans often employ tactics to exploit fear in voters in the hopes of generating unwavering patriotism and sparking fear of diverse communities. Trump has threatened that if his supporters fail to vote, the democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they will do it quickly and violently.” Republican white-identity politics is blatantly demonstrated in their campaign videos. The video below attempts to draw “attention to the stark contrast between ‘complicit’ Democrats and the President, for his full commitment to build a wall and fix our border to protect Americans from drugs, murder and other atrocities.”
The Swift effect
On the 8th of October Taylor Swift broke her silence on her political positioning with a powerfully captioned Instagram post. In the post Swift calls out Marsha Blackburn, a woman running for the Senate in the state of Tennessee. She writes, “I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.” Swift then goes on to name Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives as the candidates she will be voting for, urging her fans to use their right to vote.
“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.” – Taylor Swift
The impact Swift’s announcement had was bigger than anyone could have imagined. In the 48 hours after Swift made her post more than 160,000 people registered to vote. To put this into perspective, in August only 56,669 new voters registered throughout the entire month. Should we be worried about how impressionable we have become? This suggests that these 160,000 people were not too bothered about politics (or their future) until their favourite country superstar told them to be.
Whether Swift’s declaration of democratic support will actually impact election results is definitely less clear. Swift is not the first celebrity to endorse a political candidate. Beyonce paid tribute to Hillary Clinton in the lead up to the 2016 election by donning a signature Clinton pantsuit in her Ohio concert. Even Oprah Winfrey was one of the many celebrities to declare ‘I’m with her’. Although this clearly didn’t make enough of an impact to generate results. So, will Swift’s opinion be any different?
To sum it up
On November 6th the Democrats have a solid chance of winning back the House of Representatives, while the Republicans will likely keep control of the Senate.
Taking back the house would be hugely significant for Democratic advantage as they will be able to block bills from passing and use this new power to pursue their own agenda and investigate more fiercely into Trump.
It is already predicted to be a historical event. The youth vote is expected to spike, there have been record numbers of early voters, and a number of diverse candidates are expected to win. The fate of the United States government will be put into the hands of the American public once again. All registered voters, of any race, religion, education or sexual orientation will have the right to make their vote. Whatever the results may be, this will demonstrate if the actions of the American population in the 2016 election were a representation of their true ideological values or if electing Trump was just a temporary political blunder.
All of this is just the beauty of democracy I guess. So, let’s just hope they don’t fuck it up again.