What Are Voters Worried About in Runup to Midterm Elections?
The election cycle frenzy in America has reached the point of absurdity, with pundits seriously debating how a politician’s gaffe will affect his or her electoral chances months and even years before the election is actually scheduled to occur. (See: every article that’s been written about Hillary Clinton since 2008.) But we are finally in the last weeks before the November midterms. At this late date it appears we’re in for a much closer race than previously anticipated, with the Washington Post and New York Times polling models showing Republicans and Democrats neck and neck for control of the Senate. So what will sway voters’ opinions? In a new survey, researchers at the Pew Center for People & the Press try to tease out what matters most for the electorate in 2014.
Unsurprisingly, Republican and Democrat voters name very different priorities. Of the 2,000 adults surveyed, over 70% of Republicans list foreign policy, the budget deficit and immigration as their top concerns. For Democrats, the environment and economic inequality were the most important issues. The overlap comes on persistent concerns like healthcare, with 77% of all respondents saying it is very important to their vote, and on issues like terrorism that have been dominating the headlines recently, with the looming threat of a U.S. war against ISIS.
The survey affirms accepted truths about the demographics of the two parties (GOP candidates do best among whites, men, older voters and evangelicals, while Democrats are most popular among non-whites, women, younger voters and those with no religious affiliation). But the key takeaway is the difference in electoral participation. According to the survey, “Republican voters are 15 points more likely than Democrats to say they’ve given a lot of thought to the election, and 12 points more likely to say they definitely will vote.” As the Washington Post’s Scott Clement points out, out of the entire pool of registered voters, more tend to favor Democratic congressional candidates. But Republicans have a distinct advantage in terms of actually getting people to the polls. Given the predicted closeness of the Senate race, party control of Congress could come down to this relatively narrow turnout advantage.
The GOP has a number of benefits here, including the advanced age of their constituents, restrictive new voting laws that disproportionately affect the Democratic base, and a significant spending edge, fueled by the hundreds of thousands of dollars being poured into Super PACs. The Kentucky race between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes is predicted to be the most expensive in history. But these limitations shouldn’t discourage Democratic voters from turning out on November 4th. The future of affordable healthcare, environmental regulation, immigration reform, abortion rights, and the foreign policy quagmire in the Middle East all depend on which party takes control of Congress. Democratic candidates already have the preference of registered voters. It’s our job to go out and elect them.