The campaign season for this year’s midterm elections comes to a close Tuesday as voters head to the polls.
With statewide races for governor and the U.S. Senate, a race in the 10th Congressional District that’s gaining national attention and the guarantee of new faces in some local districts, there will be plenty of stories to follow as the results come in Tuesday evening.
Sarah Niebler, assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College, talks about some of the issues driving this year’s midterm elections and what voters can watch for on election day.
Q. There’s been chatter about a blue wave. What signs should we be looking for nationally that would indicate if such a thing is happening or not?
A. The “blue wave” language is tricky because I think it is largely a matter of perception. But, I think there are two indicators worth looking at. First is the number of House seats the Republicans lose. Since 1950, the president’s party has lost, on average, 24 seats in the midterm following his election. If the Democrats gain more than that number of seats (which would result in them taking majority control of the House), I think they will claim a blue wave has happened. A second indicator, I think, is whether the Democrats win any of the high-profile races that have received a lot of national coverage, specifically the Florida and/or Georgia gubernatorial races or the Texas Senate race. If the Democrats win any — let alone multiple — of those contests, I think they can make an argument for a blue wave having occurred.
Q. Do you think the increased attention to voter registration will have an effect on voter turnout and/or election results?
A. Yes, I definitely think the increased attention to voter registration will impact voter turnout on Tuesday. Political scientists and campaign workers both know the single thing that makes people most likely to vote is if someone they know asks them to vote — in person. In fact, across the country, we’ve already seen a couple of states surpass their entire 2014 midterm vote totals just during the early voting period. Whether increased focus on voter registration affects election results is trickier. While some polls have suggested Democrats are more energized than Republicans this midterm, we’ll have to wait and see what the outcomes are at the national and local levels.
Q. What have been the key issues on which voters have been focused?
A. The thread running through pretty much everything voters are focusing on in this election are issues of race, ethnicity, identity and belonging. When voters examine the economy, they’re not just looking at the overall unemployment numbers, they’re thinking about who the economy is benefiting, whether it’s their group or a group of people who are not like them. When they think about immigration, because of rhetoric on the national stage, they are likely thinking about it in the context of who is deserving of U.S. citizenship and who they believe is a threat to the national security of the U.S. The issue of gun control also has racial and ethnic overtones, especially after the shooting in Pittsburgh and the president’s response to that violence.
Q. What national trends, if any, do you see playing a role in local races, including races for state House and Congress?
A. This is an election that feels almost entirely about national issues and trends. Midterm elections are always referendums on the sitting president and the president’s party, and this one is no different. Up and down the ballot, we’re seeing candidates talk about the degree to which they agree or disagree with President Trump’s stance on issues and his rhetoric. I think a significant percentage of voters will vote straight-party in this election.
Q. In general, what should we be watching for locally or nationally on election day?
A. One thing I’ll be watching that we haven’t mentioned yet is the number of women elected to political offices in Pennsylvania. More women than ever won primary elections, and there are over 250 women running in races across the country today. In Pennsylvania, we’ve never had more than two women serve at the same time in the state’s U.S. congressional delegation, but that’s almost certain to change today. Seven women are running for Congress in Pennsylvania, including, for the first time, a congressional race with two women facing off against each other, and it seems likely that at least three will win their contests.