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By Robert A. Vella

The long-awaited pivotal 2018 midterm elections will be held next week in the U.S. which will be closely watched around the world.  The stakes are very high, and regardless of the outcome it will be a national referendum on President Trump at least to some degree.  If Republicans prevail, many proponents of democracy and the rule of law justifiably fear America will hasten its dangerous descent into authoritarianism.  If Democrats can regain some control of government, a real opportunity to halt or reverse this tragic slide will be presented.

This narrative is my personal view, and I’m sure others who also oppose Trump might see these elections in less contrasting terms and as more of a matter of individual issues such as healthcare.  Still, it is undeniable that Trump represents the most polarizing presidential figure in American history since the Civil War when the nation barely and most bloodily survived being split apart.  Then, the figure was a president who took the moral high ground so admirably that he has been widely revered as the country’s greatest leader ever since.  Now, the figure is an antithetical one – a president who brazenly appeals to the baser instincts of human nature purely for personal and political gain.

Here’s my assessment of the midterm landscape as it appears today as well as what is likely to result from the elections:

The Issues

First and foremost, Trump and his loyal GOP allies will be on the minds of all voters either consciously or subconsciously.  Those who like the direction they’re taking the nation will vote for Republican candidates.  Those who don’t like that direction will vote for Democratic or other candidates.  This mood is so strong in the country that Republican incumbents facing a more moderate electorate, particularly congress members in the U.S. House of Representatives, are running away from Trump in their campaign rhetoric.

The rights, status, and treatment of women in America will be a huge voting issue especially for suburban communities which tend to be more politically independent and from which Trump received a surprising amount of support in 2016.  This issue has been building for years (with the #MeToo movement), and the recent controversy over Trump’s supreme court nominee (Brett Kavanaugh) has galvanized it as a political concern.

The issue of healthcare, which cost Democrats so painfully in the 2010 midterms after they passed Obamacare (i.e. the Affordable Care Act), has ironically turned against Republicans in 2018 after they repeatedly tried to repeal the ACA and after President Trump’s persistent efforts to undermine it.  Specifically, voters across the spectrum are concerned about losing insurance coverage for preexisting medical conditions, are pushing their state governments to expand Medicaid under the ACA, and are enraged over GOP plans to cut Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.  From:  Forget ‘Repeal and Replace.’ The One Issue Unifying Americans Is Affordable Health Care

Thanks to various ACA provisions, the overall rise in health care costs has slowed. “I’m not saying the ACA is perfect,” says Johnson, 55, who identifies as neither Democrat nor Republican and says he has often voted for candidates of both parties. “I’m saying, let’s keep the parts that work and fix the parts that don’t.”

Finding political leaders with a plan to do that is a high priority for tens of millions of Americans this election season. In poll after poll, voters say access to affordable care is their top concern. An October Kaiser poll found that registered Democratic and independent voters in battleground districts listed health care as the most important issue.

[…]

The widespread anxiety about health care has prompted a political shift. On Election Day, conservative voters in Utah, Idaho, Nebraska and Montana are expected to join other moderate states, like Maine and Virginia, in approving ballot measures that extend Medicaid eligibility–contravening Republicans’ longtime effort to limit the program. In states like Georgia, Florida and Ohio, efforts to expand access to Medicaid has become a central, and popular, campaign issue. In August, a Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 70% of Americans, including a slim majority of Republican voters, now support some version of the universal health care proposal known as Medicare for All, which was championed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Immigration is another hot-button issue which is a preeminent concern for Trump’s xenophobic base as well as a very serious humanitarian concern for voters outside his base who are worried about rising bigotry and racism in America after an onslaught of deadly violence (e.g. Charlottesville) and mass shootings (e.g. Charleston, and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh).

The issue of ethics and corruption in government, as epitomized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election along with possible collusion with the Trump campaign, appears not to be a specific concern for most voters.  Opinion polls indicate that this issue, which could be the most important of all, isn’t as great of a concern as the others listed here.

Voter Turnout

The percentage of eligible voters who actually cast ballots is key.  It was slightly under 37% for the last midterm elections in 2014 when Republicans held their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, gained control of the U.S. Senate, and continued their run of success in governorships and state legislatures.  By comparison, voter turnout neared 60% for the last presidential election in 2016 which was won electorally (not popularly) by Trump who benefited from a number of voters in the Midwest who chose not to support Hillary Clinton even though they had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.  But, with good candidates on the ballot, Democrats historically perform well when turnout is high.  All other things being relatively equal, the general threshold for them is over 40% for midterm elections (e.g. 2006) and over 60% for presidential elections (e.g. 2008, 2012).

Most indicators point to increased turnout in 2018 approximately 10 points higher than in 2014.  From:  Voter Turnout Could Hit 50-Year Record For Midterm Elections

The 2018 elections could see the highest turnout for a midterm since the mid-1960s, another time of cultural and social upheaval.

“It’s probably going to be a turnout rate that most people have never experienced in their lives for a midterm election,” Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who studies turnout and maintains a turnout database, told NPR.

McDonald is predicting that 45 to 50 percent of eligible voters will cast a ballot. That would be a level not seen since 1970 when 47 percent of voters turned out or 1966 when a record 49 percent turned out in a midterm.

Although voter enthusiasm is up across the board for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, new voter registrations and turnout in the primaries and special elections favored Democrats over Republicans by significant margins;  and, early voting so far this year is much higher than in 2014 with record numbers in some states.  Conversely, voter enthusiasm among young people and minorities isn’t quite as strong.  From:  Record turnout? Not for millennials — just a third say they’ll vote.

About a third of millennials say they will definitely vote in November, according to results from a new NBC News/GenForward survey of millennials ages 18 to 34.

Thirty one percent of millennials say they will definitely vote in November, a number that has remained steady since August.

Young voters will play an important role in the midterm elections one week from now, and while the survey found that a sizable third of millennials definitely plan to vote and an additional 26 percent say they’ll probably vote, about a quarter are still uncertain about whether or not they’ll vote. Another 19 percent say they will probably or definitely not vote in the upcoming election.

The Intangibles

The gerrymandering of congressional districts enacted by Republicans after the 2010 census is still a problem for Democrats, but it has been mitigated somewhat through court action in a few states like Pennsylvania.

Voter suppression of minorities continues to be pursued by Republicans in red states such as Georgia, Kansas, and North Dakota.  It will be a localized factor in this year’s midterms.

Unlike 2016, Trump is not running against a flawed opponent (Clinton) who eschewed the populist sentiment which has been increasing in America for many years.  Instead, he will be running – metaphorically speaking – on his own record and performance as president.  That liberals and progressives see his presidency as toxic is neither surprising nor particularly relevant.  What is extremely relevant to these elections is how independent and moderate voters see both his presidency and the Republican candidates who’ll be on their ballots.  If these voters swing one way or the other en masse, then that will be the deciding factor in the bulk of tight races across the nation.

Electoral Battlefields

The landscape for the U.S. House of Representatives has definitely changed from 2010-2014.  Now, it is the GOP which holds power and will be the target of angry voters.  There are so many Republican incumbents who won narrowly in those elections in areas containing more moderate voters that even a small shift towards Democrats could flip those seats.

The U.S. Senate has a different landscape.  There are many more Democratic incumbents running in red states than Republican incumbents running in blue states.  Although polling shows Dems performing fairly well, the math is unfavorable for them.

In the governor races across country, the math looks better for Democrats.  There are more states where Republicans are trying to hold onto these offices.  Democrats have fielded a cast of quality candidates, and polling shows them performing extremely well especially in the Midwest.

It’s harder to assess the landscape for state legislatures;  but, with Republicans again defending more seats, it’s logical to assume they will suffer a net loss if Democrats do well elsewhere.  How this might result in the legislative control for each party is difficult to gauge considering the many variables involved.  However, I suspect that these elections will mirror the races for governor.

Probable Outcomes

It appears likely that Democrats will regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.  If they don’t, it will be a monumental failure which I believe will have disastrous consequences for this nation and possibly for the world.

It appears likely that Republicans will maintain control of the U.S. Senate.  If they don’t, it will be the result not of a “blue wave” but a “blue tsunami.”  They would lose not only control over the federal judiciary, but also most legislative means to support President Trump.

It appears likely that Democrats will make modest gains in governorships and in state legislatures.  If they don’t, then the anticipated “blue wave” was just an illusion.

Final Thought

Watch the early results from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states where Democrats have an advantage.  They should win and win big.  These races will indicate the larger direction of the electorate.

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11 thoughts on “An assessment of next week’s midterm elections

  1. Thanks for your comprehensive assessment, Robert.
    I agree that: “If [the Democrats] don’t [regain control of the House], it will be a monumental failure which I believe will have disastrous consequences for this nation and possibly for the world.” The GOP have demonstrated that they are too weak to check their leader’s grasp for total power.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the GOP is too weak to check their leader right now. But, these elections could change that dynamic. If they are soundly defeated, incumbent Republican senators up for reelection in 2020 will reconsider their loyalty to this president. And, if the Mueller investigation uncovers something really damaging on Trump, they will turn on him.

      These are two big “ifs,” but it is possible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Not a Blue Wave, but Dems win control of U.S. House of Representatives and gain some Governorships | The Secular Jurist

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