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‘Huge Decisions’ at Play in Midterms

Concerns Over Threats to Democracy Drive Unpredictable Election, UMD Expert Says

By Liam Farrell

Capitol building with illustrations of Democrat donkey and Republican elephant

Illustrations by iStock; Capitol image by Pexels; collage by Stephanie S. Cordle

Worries over the stability of the U.S. democratic process and outrage over the Supreme Court striking down abortion rights might tilt the 2022 political landscape away from the traditional narrative on midterm elections.

An economy wracked by historic inflation would generally presage huge losses for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party to their Republican rivals, but don’t count on it this time, according to Michael Hanmer, a professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Government and Politics and research director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. Maryland Today spoke to him about what’s on the ballot Nov. 8, why expectations have changed and why every voter needs to show up.

“Elected officials pay attention to people who vote,” he said. “Huge decisions get made at the state and local level.”

What is at stake in this year’s midterm elections?
The control of both chambers of Congress will heavily influence what does and what doesn’t get done. We might see more openings on the Supreme Court come up—if the Democrats are in charge of the Senate, then someone will get placed. If the Republicans are, then they likely won’t.

We have a number of governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general races where some people have very different views about how votes for the Electoral College are cast and counted and approved. That could have a massive effect in the upcoming presidential election.

Historically, what have midterms meant for the president’s party?
Usually, you see a big loss in House seats for the party that controls the presidency. In a normal year, we would expect really big losses on the Democratic side.

Some of that is enthusiasm. We know that turnout is lower in midterm elections, and people who are the most engaged are fired up because their party lost the presidential election. It’s harder for the party in power to have an affirmative, positive message about what they are doing. No administration has ever been perfect. A lot of accomplishments are things that happen in the details.

Do you have the same expectations for this election?
This one is hard to predict. People are seriously concerned about threats to democracy, and that’s a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, offices like secretary of state have been seen as where you want a competent public servant who is not going to bring a lot of partisanship to the table. That’s changing. We have some really serious races where the candidates couldn’t be more different in terms of their basic approaches to the position.

How will issues such as inflation and abortion rights factor in?
For people who have abortion rights as the main thing driving their vote, that probably is sufficient to get them to turn out. For people motivated by the economy, I think they will probably lineup more like we would expect them to (in opposing incumbents).

We haven’t seen inflation like this in a long time. If it stays the same or goes down (before the election), Democrats can make the argument they are fixing it.

Outside of federal and state races, Maryland voters appear poised to legalize recreational marijuana. Does the relative lack of controversy surprise you?
I really think there is a larger national phenomenon. It seems like an issue whose time has come—people have just become comfortable with it. To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t seen major problems in places that have legalized. Not to say there haven’t been problems, but they haven’t been so widespread or large to alter the trend that was clearly moving in the direction of legalization.



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