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BIPP Pizza and Policy panel breaks down midterm elections

Sam Rosenblatt, Print Managing Editor

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The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) hosted a Pizza and Policy panel in Academic West on Nov. 8, breaking down the outcomes of the 2018 midterm elections. Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Ellis, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Jennifer Silva, and Professor of Political Science Scott Meinke served as panelists for the event. Each commented on the midterm election results from the perspective of their respective areas of research before answering questions from the audience.

Ellis, who studies public opinion, described four key principles to midterm elections before analyzing this year’s results. One key part of each midterm election, according to Ellis, is citizens in the ideological center voting to balance government and place a check on the president by voting for the party not currently in power. Second, the midterms serve as a referendum on the president. Third, midterms serve as a referendum on the economy. Ellis noted that the U.S. economy’s strong performance and low unemployment rate of late “mitigated some Republican losses.”

Finally, Ellis explained that turnout drives midterm elections. This turnout is driven in large part by emotions, specifically anger. “The emotion that makes you do stuff is anger,” Ellis said. “Anxiety makes you think, fear makes you apprehensive, happiness makes you complacent, anger makes you get off your couch and do something.”

For much of the first two years of President Donald Trump’s term, Democrats showed significantly more anger than Republicans in public opinion polls. However, Ellis cited a YouGov poll indicating Republican emotions surged following the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, which turned out GOP voters and prevented further losses for the party.

While Ellis felt that this election’s results did not deliver a full scale “Blue Wave” speculated by some pundits, he explained that Democrats contesting seats across the board, even in reliably red districts, drew the Republican Party’s attention and financial resources away from some more competitive races.

Silva spent three years of field research interviewing residents of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. Once a thriving region, this part of the state now suffers from severe unemployment and an overall decline of the American dream. “In a way, no matter what happened in the midterms, the sort of pain and frustration has been building for decades in the coal region,” Silva said. “They feel like no one has protected them from poverty, exploitation, and shame.”

“Political polling doesn’t always show us the process of frame-building that people use to arrive at their positions and the kinds of stories they tell to defend how they think,” Silva said.

Meinke described the new composition of Congress in terms of both demographics and ideology. While Congress is still far from gender parity, many more women were elected in 2018, including four new members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Furthermore, Meinke acknowledged that an increasing variety of minority candidates will join Congress in January.

In terms of ideology, Meinke noted that the House GOP delegation has become more conservative while their Democratic counterparts have become more moderate. “A lot of the people who decided to not run in the House and a lot of the people who were defeated who ran again in the House were more moderate, center-right Republicans,” Meinke said. In contrast, many Democrats who won in the elections last week represent constituencies that will prevent them from “tack[ing] too far to the left.”

Meanwhile, Meinke said that both parties have lost more moderate members in the Senate, most notably Democratic candidates who had represented states that Trump carried in the 2016 election.

In terms of policy-making, Meinke predicted both parties to communicate messages with their majorities more than compromising on policy. “I think Democrats in the House will spend a lot of time passing bills that the Senate will not pass in order to say, ‘if you had a Democratic Senate, they would pass these [bills]’ and vice versa for the Republicans in the Senate,” Meinke said.

Additionally, Meinke expects that House Democrats will use their power to investigate the Trump Administration, while Senate Republicans will use their expanded majority to confirm more federal judges.

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BIPP Pizza and Policy panel breaks down midterm elections