Down to the Wire

Down to the Wire


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The 2018 mid-term elections have generated more attention than any mid-term election in memory. Both parties have devoted enormous time, energy, and unprecedented resources to the campaign. The language has been intense and angry. It has not been a fun filled show but a bitter display of hostility.  Anger and scare tactics have ruled the stage and it may well take years to make the country whole again. Politicians of all stripes don’t want to accept responsibility or recognize the dangers inherent in stirring up crowds. Not since Nazi rallies has the intensity for violence stood so close to the periphery of the rhetoric.

The potential dangers posed by the failed pipe bombs were a partisan attack. At the same time, the tragedies in Pittsburgh and Kentucky showed the deep-seated hate coursing through the country’s veins. This is precisely where campaign bombast can lead.

This campaign created a phenomenon also virtually unseen before. Former presidents rarely take to the stump immediately following leaving office. President Obama, however, has crisscrossed the country as if he himself were seeking re-election. The concern and emotion with which he has thrown himself into the fray is unprecedented. (What is fascinating is that there has been virtually no criticism of his efforts. Obama’s supporters have been buoyed by his efforts, while his detractors have enjoyed employing him as a foil.)

The intensity with which President Trump has devoted himself to this mid-year election similarly has been virtually unprecedented. It is not only the size of his rallies but the passion of his rhetoric. His crowds have been large, and his performances have been straight out of reality TV shows. The Election Day test for Trump will be whether he aroused—or frightened—his base sufficiently to once again surprise all the pollsters.

(If the polls are wrong again—even with all their rationalizations—it may be time for the pollsters to close up shop; despite all their algorithms. In their defense, however, it needs to be understood why their efforts have become so challenging. Voters are frequently ambivalent about telling pollsters the truth. While an error—or lying factor—is built into all polls, the results can have a much weaker accuracy factor than previously. In addition, state polls for Senate are macro pictures of state voter attitudes which frequently can conflict with same state House voter polls as those House races are micro studies. Generic polls whether national ones or state-wide ones, therefore, are more challenged today than previously.)

For the Dems, it will all depend on turnout. It has been clear for months that the Democrats needed to turn out their voters, especially that part of their base– young voters and minorities—which tend to be among the largest blocs which traditionally do not turn out for mid-year elections. Democrats can flip the House—at least—if there is a sizable increase in turnout if this voter demographic joins in significant numbers with the expected increase in women voters; particularly suburban women. This is not a sure thing, however, as Trump appears to have energized his base more effectively than many had predicted. The GOP has a young, female demographic as well.

There is another factor which has fundamentally impacted this year’s mid-term elections. The level of media saturation with the 24/7 news cycle together with the expanded use of social media has been dramatic. The super saturation and coverage of speech after speech and rally after rally has been non-stop. Cable news channels have had a field day but to what effect?

Once again in a democracy at the end of the day it will came down to the voters.

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