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In case you haven’t been paying super close attention, November 4 is election day across the country. Midterm elections are historically the elections with the lowest levels of voter participation, a scary prospect given that this year’s elections put numerous important decisions in the hands of the American people. As with any election, this year’s midterm elections have featured many contentious issues and candidates making outrageous claims about their opponents, political pundits making audacious predictions, and the media running rampant.
As Obama nears the middle of his second term, his approval ratings are in the gutter and people are beginning to question what he really stands for. The Republicans are poised to maintain control of the House of Representatives, all but guaranteeing continued gridlock and partisan strife in Washington. The race to control the Senate remains open but seems to be leaning to the Republicans. If the Republicans take the Senate, President Obama will face an even more difficult job of passing any aspects of his agenda and will have an even more challenging time getting his chosen judges and government appointees confirmed. He can expect that both the House and Senate will be working to undermine him, meaning early lame duck status for him in the circus that Washington, D.C. has become.
Another source of major contention this election season has been spending by SuperPACs and other large donors. Seen by many as simply buying votes, candidates and, ultimately, favorable laws, the biggest donations have gone to Republican candidates in close elections. The major donors to Republicans, once again, have been shadowy groups supported by the billionaire Koch brothers. This election has seen the emergence of large donors to the Democrats, including Tom Steyer, who has donated $58 million to push his issue, climate change. Although Democrats have criticized these un-regulated, out-sized campaign donations in the past, this year they have competed actively to have wealthy, liberal-leaning donors support Democrats in key elections. It will be interesting to conduct an election post-mortem to assess whether big money from PACs made a difference and continued the trend of money playing an increasingly important role in American politics, which fundamentally contradicts the American ideal of a free and fair electoral process.
There is lots of interest and many hot topics on this year’s election trail. After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost a primary challenge, all eyes turned to the race of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faced the prospect of losing his seat in the Senate just at the moment when his party took control. While the latest polling indicates that McConnell will hold his seat, the fact that he was in trouble indicates how upset the public is with politicians in general. Get-out-the-vote campaigns may tip the balance in a number of critical races. Ballot measures in many states have captured public attention, ranging from the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, to voter restrictions in Texas, to limits on abortion in Arkansas.
It is critical that all people, especially teens, follow the outcome of the elections. Civic engagement and activism allows a connection to life around you and provides a chance to have an impact on the future of our country. Big decisions, like the legalization of marijuana or whether the Republican party will re-take the Senate, will have immediate and longer term impact on our society and are particularly relevant to teens who will be, after all, the next generation of policy makers.