Listen: Dr Shaun Ratcliffe in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty
On Tuesday November 6 many Australians will be obsessed with a horse race in Melbourne. In the United States politicians will be focused on a race of a different kind – the Midterm elections. What are they and why do they matter?
Endorse or repudiate Trump
Coming at the halfway point in the four year Presidential term, the midterm elections will see votes cast for the US House of Representatives (the House) and the Senate. The result may critically alter the balance of power in both the House and the Senate. All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. In addition, 39 state and territorial governorships as well as numerous other state and local elections will be contested.
Many observers say it will be a vote on the Trump Presidency and either endorse or put a break on the political agenda he is pursuing.The final outcome hinges on the results in some key marginal seat contests. However, according to the Washington post there are at least five different possible outcomes.
Many things to vote for or against
Strangely for Australians, it is the election of State Governors that might have the biggest impact on who holds power in the House for the next Presidential election in 2020. Amongst the State Governor positions up for election are those in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin Georgia, Texas and Georgia. If Democrats win in those states, and some seem likely to, they could rollback partisan gerrymandering of electoral districts that have advantaged the Republican party and helped them control the US House of representatives.
State and local elections
Additionally during the midterms, many states will be electing members of the state legislature. Americans also vote on various government roles from sheriff and police chief to attorney general and state prosecutor. In some jurisdictions there are votes on legal changes – so called ‘propositions’ the voters are asked to support or oppose. In New York , for instance there are so many propositions on the reverse side of the candidate voting paper that they will be getting a taste of the 2010 Election NSW Senate ballot paper ‘tablecloth’ that led to some changes here in Australia.
Voter Suppression and gerrymandering
Voting is not compulsory in the United States and historically there is a much smaller turnout of voters for midterm elections. Most of those who do vote are older and more likely to be conservative. There is also a long history of gerrymandering and voter suppression in the United States. Some of the examples of how people can be disenfranchised in a supposedly democratic country are truly astonishing. The US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has an explainer on why gerrymandering may impact the results.
Parkland school shooting and elections
This year there has been a concerted campaign on university campuses to get young people to register and to vote. The Miami Dade College in Florida is just a 40 minute drive from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where seventeen students and staff were killed and seventeen others injured when a 19 year old former student opened fire using the controversial mass shooter weapon of choice, the semi automatic AR-15.
Florida – the ‘Gunshine’ state
Traditionally gun control measures have not been popular with American voters. That has been especially so in Florida – the so called ‘Gunshine’ state, where laws are especially lax. But things are changing, just days after the shooting, the teenage survivors of the school shooting started the Never Again MSD (the MSD is for the school name Marjorie Stone Douglas) movement to advocate for more controls on the sale of weapons.
Shooting survivor Emma González confronts National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch on CNN.
As savvy users of social media and effective communicators the young people of Marjory Stoneman have had an impact on the gun culture of the United States. A main goal of the group is to influence the 2018 US elections, and they embarked on a multi-city bus tour in June 2018 to encourage young people to register to vote.
March of Our Lives
Student organizers from Never Again MSD planned the March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018 in Washington DC, in collaboration with the non-profit organization non-profit organization Everytown for Gun Safety. People rallied across America and the world in about 800 protests. Turnout was estimated to be between 1.2 and 2 million people in the United States, making it one of the largest protests in American history.
“Your Vote is Your Voice”
Miami Dade College endorsed the campaign to engage young people with the slogan “Your Vote is Your Voice – survivors of the school shooting spoke on campus. At the close of early voting Miami Dade College topped the University early voting and signs looked positive for democrats.
YouGov poll on issues
Dr Shaun Ratcliff Shaun Ratcliff is a lecturer in political science from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. His research focus is on the use of quantitative methods and survey data to understand public opinion, political behaviour and the role of parties in both the United States and Australia. On Open House he explained the findings of a YouGov poll the US Studies Centre commissioned on US midterm voter concerns. The US Studies Centre has extensive coverage of the midterms on their website.
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