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Republicans and Democrats trying to win hearts and minds - but would a high turnout benefit Trump?

Turnout is usually low for US midterms but indications are that the Trump effect could make this the most hotly contested in decades.

Midterm Option 2

INTEREST IN THE US midterm elections is unusually high this time around with a much larger than average turnout expected in the first big electoral test for President Donald Trump since he beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. 

So what’s up for decision this time? Every seat in the House of Representatives – that’s 435 in all – and a third of the 100-seat Senate. (More on that here)

The elections are crucial for a number of reasons. The Senate is incredibly close at present – with 51 Republicans and 47 Democrats in office. The House of Representatives also currently has a Republican majority. 

Midterm Elections 2018: Early Voting in Georgia Source: Robin Rayne Nelson/PA Images

If the Democrats were to wrest back control of one or both of these it would be a serious dent to Trump’s presidency. 

With the polarising president dividing opinion across the States, is it likely there will be a higher turnout? And if there is what effect would that have? 

Turnout

Traditionally, voter turnout for the US midterm elections is always far, far lower than the turnout for presidential elections. 

Comparing it internationally can be problematic, however, due to the way turnout is measured in the US compared to elsewhere.

While turnout among the Irish electorate, for example, is calculated using the number of those registered to vote as the total, US turnout rates often use the number of all adults as the total.

NY: National Day of Action: End Family Separation Source: Erin Lefevre/SIPA USA/PA Images

Regardless of what measure is used, turnout is always fairly low for the midterm elections.

In the 2008 presidential election, for example, around 58% of US adults turned out to vote, with Barack Obama sweeping to victory.

In the midterm elections in 2010, that number was closer to 40%. For Obama’s re-election, turnout went back over 50%.

Demographically, there are number of groups far less likely to vote in elections in general in the US. Latino and Asian-American voter turnout was much lower in the 2012 election than white and black voters. Younger voters and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are usually less likely to vote. 

Midterms come half way through a presidency and often witness voters turning on the party of that president.

In 2010, two years into the Obama administration, the opposition Republicans won 63 seats to gain a majority in the House of Representatives. 

In 2006, two years into George W Bush’s second term, the Democrats gained a majority. Bill Clinton also felt similar effects early into his presidency.

NY: Competition to design new I Voted sticker in New York Source: Richard B Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

And, when an opposition party makes gains in the midterms, they often seek to use this majority to stifle or stymie a president’s policies. 

One example was Obama’s failed attempts at filling the seat on the Supreme Court that Trump would eventually fill with Neil Gorsuch. 

Social media

Tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter have been much maligned for the role that misinformation on those social media platforms may have played in other recent elections.

Despite Trump’s repeated insistence, the topic of Russian meddling still hasn’t gone away almost two years since the American public voted him president.

The social media companies have been trying to rehabilitate their reputations in this sphere, and some have been taking measures to try to encourage people to get out and vote this year. 

Equally, both Republican and Democrat supporters are using social media to reach out to potential voters in huge numbers.

Appearing at the top of many Facebook feeds in recent weeks for users in the States was this message: “The voter registration deadline in your state is today. Share a voter registration link to help your friends register.”

Even dating app Bumble is trying to get involved, allowing its users to have a “I am a voter” badge on their profile. 

Its chief operating officer Sarah Jones Slimmer told USA Today: “This is less about taking any particular stance on an issue and much more about helping our user base understand the importance of voter registration and showing up to the polls and doing what we can to highlight just how important that is.”

Also having their say on the matter are US celebrities with even some who would never usually have public utterances about politics speaking out.

Chief among these has been singer Taylor Swift, who broke a long-standing policy of not commenting on such matters earlier this month to endorse the Democrats.

She told her 112 million followers why she couldn’t support the Republican candidate and urged people to go out and register to vote. 

Taylor Swift Swift broke a long standing policy to have her say Source: John Salangsang/PA Images

The Guardian went to her home state of Tennessee to ask if her endorsement would make a difference, and the answer from many was a resounding yes.

Over the past two weeks, the singer has been posting images of fans who have been absentee voting or early voting across the country on her Instagram feed. Many are first-time voters. 

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Famous figures such as comedian Amy Schumer and model Emily Ratajkowski were among those protesting at a sit-in against Brett Kavanaugh in recent weeks at a Senate building.

On the other hand, Kanye West has made public statements in support of Trump – and even visited him in the White House a few weeks ago.

The midterms are galvanising large numbers of people in the US – with nation’s president the central figure one way or another.

The Trump effect

Predictions are that turnout for this midterm will be higher than usual, and this is likely due to the “Trump effect”.

Trump has been such a firebrand since becoming president that interest is higher than ever before to see if he’ll follow the same trends as Obama, Bush and Clinton, or if he can help Republicans retain control in government. 

And this interest has so far translated into more people getting out to have their say. 

Last week, the number of early voters turning out had forecasters predicting a midterm turnout not seen in decades.

Trump Trump has been appearing at rally after rally to try win support Source: CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail

As of Friday 26 October, returns compiled by the Associated Press showed more than 15 million votes cast in 38 states. Many states had more than doubled what turnout was at that point in 2014, with a handful already eclipsing their overall early turnout – through postal votes and in person – for that election. 

Some forecasters are predicting turnout could end up approaching 50%, levels not reached since the midterms between 1962-1970. These are years, perhaps not coincidentally, that spanned a political turbulent era.

But it is unclear what effect a larger turnout will have on Trump and the republicans as of yet. 

If millions more people turn out to vote than they did in the 2014 midterms, for example, will that be a good or bad thing for Trump?

Where Democrats claim that higher turnout among demographics that don’t usually vote in huge numbers – ethnic minorities, younger people, and those on lower incomes – will translate into more votes for them, Republicans say they will benefit from the “new” voter phenomenon that helped Trump charge to victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In fact, for Republicans, Trump is being used a focal point in their campaign in an attempt to swing newer voters to their side.

The president has attended campaign rallies again and again in recent weeks. Each of these is ticketed online. After applying for tickets, every attendees’ contact information is added to national Republican’s voter file database.

Party officials have said that anyone identified as a potential new voter is contacted personally by phone or within an in-person visit within days of signing up.

Both sides are trying to take advantage of the increase in interest in the midterm elections this time around, and turn them into votes. 

Will he suffer the same fate and lose ground on his political opponents like Obama and others have?

The big question will be how the American public has viewed the administration so far. In key swing States like Florida, people’s take on Donald Trump will play a massive role in who will hold the power in the Senate and the House.

If the Democrats manage to regain them, the pressure on Trump will intensify. He’ll find it harder to get his measures through, and talk of impeachment over Russian meddling in the election will only grow louder in the months to come. 

With reporting from AP

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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