5 Reasons the 2014 Elections Will Be a Hot Mess

This year’s primary races show that the 2014 midterm elections will be unique. Gallup research has found that Americans have increasingly less faith in all branches of government, particularly Congress. Survey data collected in early June exemplified that trend, as just 7 percent of respondents expressed faith in the legislative branch of the federal government.

But for American voters, this disheartening view of lawmakers has not translated into a greater desire to guide the political process. So far, the 2014 primaries have been characterized by historically low voter participation rates. Even in states were the voting process has been made simpler, only a small number of ballots were cast. A study conducted by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate revealed that among the 25 states that have held primaries, voter turnout has fallen 18 percent from 2010 levels.

Source: Gallup

It is a well-known fact that midterm elections — and especially their primaries — typically suffer from low voter turnout. Not only do voters in midterm elections tend to be those most passionate about political issues, but those voters who cast ballots are generally older, whiter, and more conservative.

With disunity plaguing the Republicans, the threat of a coming Democratic schism on the horizon, and the American electorate more partisan than ever before, November’s elections will produce anything but consensus on major issues. Because the success (or failure) of the Affordable Care Act is anything but decided — partly thanks to Tuesday’s ruling on the legality of health insurance subsidies — and because the reform remains extremely political, it is an issue that voters will use to separate candidates.

Keep reading to see why November’s midterm elections will do little to recalibrate the American political system.


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1. Eric Cantor lost his primary battle to a Tea Party challenger

Come 2015, Eric Cantor will no longer represent the 7th District of Virginia. An early June loss to Dave Brat, a little-known and poorly funded Tea Party challenger, in the Republican primaries has ended Cantor’s 14 years in the House of Representatives.

Cantor’s defeat is an epic loss by historic proportions: He is the first sitting House majority leader to lose his party’s primary since the position was created in 1899, according to the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog. It was also not a narrow election, with Cantor winning 47 percent of the vote to Brat’s 56 percent. Two years ago, Cantor won 80 percent of the vote. His loss was seen as a win for conservatives who are tired of establishment Republicans conforming to the political status quo of Washington.

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2. Six-term Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi won a tight runoff

Especially after Cantor’s loss, a major question for political analysts is whether establishment Republicans could take back the party. And while it took a runoff election, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran was able to survive his primary battle. But neither Cantor’s loss nor Cochran’s victory tell a complete narrative of the 2014 elections. Neither faction of the party has secured enough electoral wins for any determinable pattern to be identified. Despite the high stakes of November’s midterms — regaining the Senate majority, for the GOP — Republicans have yet to unify. And for Democrats, that presents an opportunity to expand its voter base.

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3. Historically low voter turnout

Despite pockets of active protest against the current administration and the broad-based dissatisfaction with government incompetency, voter participation rates suggest an apathetic electorate. Even as more than half of primary states saw record low turnouts, spending by candidates soared in a select number of states: Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Iowa.

As The Washington Post reports, there is almost no correlation between how much money was spent on campaigns and how many registered voters cast ballots. The low voting numbers calculated by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate do suggest that election issues will be extremely partisan in nature, making the political process more acrimonious while preventing results from building any general consensus.

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4. Obamacare is still on uncertain territory

Now, after the most important of the law’s provisions have been implemented, lawmakers campaigning for reelection must carefully consider how to speak about healthcare reform.

Republicans have to bear in mind that millions of potential voters are enrolled for coverage through the exchanges, and that fact has complicated the party’s repeal efforts. Republican lawmakers up for reelection need to appease those voters who want Obamacare repealed without alienating their more moderate constituents.

Even with the alienation concern, “Obamacare is one vehicle to drive home a much larger, more tangible credibility problem,” Brad Dayspring, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The Washington Post. “This electorate is primed to send a message to President Obama and Washington. It will be a referendum on their policies.”

Obamacare also cannot be easily employed as campaign fuel by Democrats. President Obama said in April that “Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact … we’re helping because of something we did,” with that something being the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But with a key provision of the reform — the health insurance subsidies — entangled in a legal battle, it is clear the law is still a politically dangerous issue.

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5. Immigration reform is untouchable in 2014

Eric Cantor’s primary loss was not only a blow for the establishment branch of the Republican Party, but it was also the final blow for immigration reform. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, lawmakers on either end of the aisle seemed invested in reforming the U.S. immigration system. Democrats wanted to uphold promises made to their Latino supporters while Republicans wanted to gain credibility among minority voters so as to avoid demographic problems in future elections.

But the victory of Dave Brat — who campaigned against Cantor’s support of piecemeal proposals, referring to them as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants — means that President Barack Obama can not expect any Republican support for a legislative overhaul. Plus, even before Cantor’s loss, top Republicans indicated they would not pursue reform this year.

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