US turnout surges in Midterms

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ELECTIONS TO CONGRESS. The legislative branch of the US government takes place every two years; November’s midterm elections, so-called because they fall in the middle of the incumbent president’s term, have been seen as particularly poignant as a chance for American voters to pass judgement on Donald Trump’s performance so far. The Democrats aimed to mobilise currents of frustration towards Trump’s divisive policies – which include detention of immigrant children apart from their parents, and attempts to bar transgender people from joining the military – to create a “blue wave” of support, which would enable them to take both the Senate and the House of Representatives out of Republican control. However, the Democrats did not achieve such a straightforward or decisive victory, failing to take back control of the Sen-ate, with the GOP actually increasing their majority in this house. The House of Representatives was a much more successful battleground for the Democrats, as they man-aged to regain control of the House for the first time since 2010. The long-standing leader of the House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, said that this will allow for “restored checks and balances” on the administration, enabling scrutiny of Trump’s legislative programme, and hinting that formal investigations into the President’s conduct may be imminent. A Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will break conservative hegemony across the US government, since the Supreme Court now has a strong conservative majority due to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.Party politics aside, this month’s midterm results were momentous for their diversity, especially in the House of Representative and state Governor races. In Colorado,Democrat Jared Poliswill become the first gay man to hold the position of US state Governor, and Rashida Talib and Ilhan Omar will be the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. A record number of women were elected to Congress; in the House, 102 were elected in comparison to the previous record of 84, with the Senate increasing its proportion of women more incrementally, but still encouragingly. Commentators have interpreted this considerable increase in female representation in Congress as a backlash against the restrictive policies on abortion and contraception pursued by the current administration, not to mention the many accusations of sexual misconduct levelled at President Trump himself. The elections were also incredibly successful in terms of voter turnout, which is often low at mid-terms when t h e country is relatively economically stable and there is content with the status quo. The United States Elections Projectestimates that 49.2 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in November’s midterms, in comparison with the turnout of the last mid-term elections in 2014, which was less than 37 per cent. This spike in turnout was driven by strong opinions inflamed by Trump, whether in support of, or in opposition to him. Much of this increase in turnout was due to Democrat mobilisation, but it must be noted that Republican enthusiasm did not decline, and turnout within this group also went up. The Senate campaign of one in-dividual, Beto O’Rourke, stood out for its audacious challenge to the incumbent Republican candidate Ted Cruz, in the traditionally ‘red’ state of Texas. O’Rourke started out with little more than two old friends as his advisers, and a rented car. Together they built his campaign from the ground up as he visited every county in Texas. Impressively, he took no donations from PACs or large corporate donors, but raised $70 million all from smaller donations, and relied on a vast army of volunteers who largely organised and mobilised themselves. The GOP took aim at O’Rourke for his past as a member of a punk rock band, and his laid back persona encapsulated by footage of him skateboarding on the campaign trail; but this ultimately cemented his appeal to younger voters. The data reflects his staggering success in this demographic; 18-29 year-olds usually show a low inter-est in midterm elections, but this year in Texas, turnout was five times greater than in the 2014 midterms. O’Rourke gained a stunning 71 per cent of the vote in this age range. His innovative and hands-on campaign strategy brought him close to beating Ted Cruz, an incredible feat in a usually solidly conservative state. The Democrats will need to harness the energy unleashed by the O’Rourke campaign to make further gains as whispers of a “Beto 2020” run swell.