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John McGlennon, Professor of American Politics, shares his view on the upcoming mid-term elections

What are the important state-wide races to watch for the mid-terms?

 This election features several highly competitive races for Governor and Congress.  The most interesting are likely to be the very same ones that we watched carefully in 2020: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  All five of these feature important races for Governor and the United States Senate, and four also feature highly contested races for Secretary of State. The outcomes of the Senate races will likely determine which party controls the upper chamber in Congress for the next two years. The outcomes of the Secretary of State races in Arizona and Michigan, where the Republican candidates have claimed the 2020 Presidential race was stolen nationally and, in their states, could have serious implications for the 2024 election for President, which they would oversee in these states. For the House of Representatives, Republicans are hoping to win at least five more seats than they currently hold in order to win the majority in the chamber.  Actually, Virginia will provide a good indicator of the national battle, as two districts currently held by Democratic women are among the most closely contested in the nation.  If Republicans win both the 2nd and 7th Districts from Democrats, expect a strong majority for the GOP in the House.  If Democrats hold both, they may well be able to hold on to their narrow majority.  If the two seats split, expect a couple of days wait to know which party will control the House.

 What are the big issues nationally that are influencing the mid-term elections?

 Polls tell us that the economy/cost of living is the number one issue, with abortion, crime, threats to democracy and climate change lagging behind.  But the motivating factors for voters vary deeply between the parties, which makes the impact of issues much more subtle.  Usually in midterm elections, a President’s party will lose seats, in part due to the previous presidential election having helped the President’s party gain marginal seats. With President Biden’s approval rating being weak, that would normally add to the GOP advantage in the midterm, and the President’s party normally sees a drop in turnout. 

 This election seems to be defying a lot of normal trends: Democrats LOST seats in the House in 2020, even as Joe Biden was winning a substantial victory.  Yet Democrats also have won some surprising victories in “special elections” to fill House vacancies this fall. Democrats report equal enthusiasm for voting this year as do Republicans, and both sides are showing very high interest in voting. Polling has been all over the place, and so it’s tough to put too much credence in small margins.  So, we could easily see surprises on November 8.

Will recent Supreme Court decisions, such as Dobbs, play a role in influencing voters’ decisions this mid-term?

 Certainly, Democrats are expecting it to be a major issue.  Republicans are struggling to find the right response to public unhappiness with the Supreme Court decision, so they are emphasizing the economy and crime.  A few analysts have pointed to surges in interest, registration and voting among younger voters, especially young women, which they think may be underestimated in polls built around expectations of “likely voters” that are built into many polls.

 This election may fundamentally alter our understanding of voting behavior in an era of extreme partisan polarization.