US midterms: Future of elections could be at stake
Washington, Nov 03: In 2014, turnout for the midterms in the United States hit a record low. Less than 42% of those eligible showed up for the vote that lies right in the middle between two presidential elections, where all members of the House of Representatives, one third of the Senate and several state leadership positions are elected. Four years later, in the midterms under President Donald Trump, that number increased to 53.4%, according to the US Census Bureau.
Brandon Conradis, campaign editor at the political news site The Hill and a former news writer with DW, believes that a lot of US voters will show up at the polls for this year's midterms on November 8 as well.
"We're seeing from the early voting data that turnout is probably going to be significantly higher than it usually is in a midterm election," Conradis told DW. "I think that's indicative of the concerns about where the country is right now."
The US: A country split down the middle
The US in 2022 is a highly polarized country. The reactions to the Supreme Court's repeal of Roe v Wade, which had guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion nationwide, was a clear sign of the gulf separating the left and the right. Liberals were horrified by what they saw as a basic right being snatched away. Conservatives were elated and celebrated the decision as a big win.
This strong polarization can be a driver of voter turnout because both sides are anxious to prevent the other side from winning even one inch (or seat) in the race for power.
Democratic voters in states where leadership positions are up for election this year want to make sure that it won't be a Republican governor who decides whether pregnant people have legal access to abortion or not. And Republican voters scared of a recessionblame President Joe Biden for current economic problems and hope Republican politicians can bring about change.
"Inflation, economic issues and crime are really important [factors] for conservative voters right now, for Republicans. Those are major issues that are talking points for their candidates," Laura Merrifield Wilson, associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, told DW. "For the Democrats, abortion is taking up most of the air and oxygen in the room."
Wilson added that Democratic voters are also concerned that after the Roe v Wade repeal, the Supreme Court could look at other social issues as well and perhaps restrict gay rights in a similar manner.
Election deniers still a force among Republicans
If Democrats lose control of one or both chambers of Congress, that would make the second half of Biden's term significantly more complicated than the first. Passing legislation without the majority in Congress would be a lot harder.
But there's an issue aside from the usual "Who takes the House and/or Senate?" that makes this year's vote different from "any old midterms," as Wilson put it: Several Republican candidates for positions ranging from state leadership to House and Senate seats openly support Donald Trump's (by now thoroughly refuted) claim that the 2020 election was "stolen"and that he would have won if the results hadn't been rigged.
One of these election deniers is Kari Lake, a vocal Trump supporter who is running for governor of Arizona.
"Unfortunately, we had a stolen election, and we actually have an illegitimate president sitting in the White House," Lake is quoted by public broadcaster PBS as saying on the primaries campaign trail in June 2022.
The Republican candidate for Arizona's secretary of state, Mark Finchem, has also said he would not have signed off on Biden's win in Arizona, where the Democrat narrowly beat Trump, a fact that was confirmed by a recount.
Potential impact on the 2024 presidential election
In the US electoral system, it's mostly the state leadership that's in charge of organizing the polling process and certifying the state's election results.
The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, a non-partisan political newsletter that analyzes elections in the US, rated the gubernatorial race in Arizona a toss-up shortly before the midterm election.
"It's one [Lake] very much could win, and that could really have an impact on the 2024 election," Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor at the Cook Political Report, told DW.
"If, as we expect, former President Trump tries to run again, and if he has friendlier people in some of these swing states that may be willing to overturn the results or work with the state legislature to do so," then things could turn out differently than they have in 2020, Taylor said.
Midterms a historic moment for the US
A number of candidates who do not recognize the current US government as valid are running for leadership positions. Conradis believes that this factor contributes to the concerns surrounding the upcoming midterms.
He also stresses that the country has never seen this many candidates openly deny that the man currently in the White House got there fair and square.
"It feels like we're in an unprecedented moment in American history," Conradis said.