By Audrey Callaway Scherer
In a political environment with an undertone of economic anxiety and identity politics, CNM political science Instructor Anip Uppal wonders if constituents, particularly the bases of each party, will push elected representatives to work across the aisle to pass consequential bills.
One of the silver linings of the past two or three years is that more people are energized and paying attention to politics – yes, it could be partisan, but you want more people in a democracy participating, he said.
They are not just paying attention to the federal level but also state and local levels and are voting not just for the top of the ticket but also the rest of the races and ballot provisions. They may be running for office themselves, participating in campaigns, or at least paying attention to who they would prefer to see in what capacity across all levels of politics, he said.
“And there’s nothing wrong with being a partisan, so in this case, I think that was the silver lining. That more people are energized, more people are mobilized, more people are participating,” he said.
The problem with campaigns today is that candidates don’t run on policy or their own track records, they run on the other person’s track record or lack thereof, he said.
“So then, you’re moving into this particular direction in politics but you would hope, certainly at least on paper for the sake of democracy, that the two entities would actually work together in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Both parties tend to blame the other. As opposed to running negative ads about their opponents, they should work to pass sizeable important bills based on policies and run on that track record in a positive way, he said.
Negative ads have been gaining political traction and more attention because of people being more charged up, but it’s also because the ads work, he said. People tend to remember negatives of personnel, especially of a president or representative, as opposed to the positives and what a person accomplished.
“If you look at the language, and the degree of which it is used in today’s ads, it is just … it’s very, very extreme in nature,” he said.
It makes sense for Republicans to run negative ads because they are finding it difficult to run on their accomplishments, he said. Barring the mainly corporate tax breaks, quasi-repeal of Obamacare and the Supreme Court appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, people would expect more from them being a party that controls the House, the Senate, and the White House.
For the Democrats, it makes complete sense, because they don’t control anything, he said. They run negative ads to point out that Republicans were put into office and have a lack of accomplishments. Based upon that, give them a chance again. He said the filibuster is on a slippery slope, and more so it is dying in a very gradual way. It’s being watered down extensively.
In this heightened political environment, he thinks more and more people are choosing far left or far right candidates, but that there is still plenty of space.
“The question also is, honestly, will the base of each party push the elected representatives to work across the aisle?” he said.
Data suggest that the people in office reflect what the constituents and electorate want. If the electorate is putting into office hard-core right and left of the spectrum representatives because they don’t want the elected representatives to cross party lines and work with the other party, then the likelihood of getting anything accomplished is remote and the only entity that loses is us, the people, he said.
The likelihood of important bills being passed is also low in a divided Congress.
“Not impossible, because both will have to also take into account that they cannot be simply an entity that does not get anything done,” he said.
He said that recent Congresses have included the worst performing in U.S. history in terms of passing bills that have consequence.
The Republicans passed roughly 70 bills only to repeal Obamacare that passed the House but not the Senate, despite that they controlled both chambers, he said. A watered-down version did eventually pass each House, negating the filibuster in the Senate – hence, the quasi-repeal, but not the one promised on the 2016 campaign trails. He noted that the initial rebut was courtesy of the late Sen. Jon McCain.
It’s difficult to state that the parties would work together more often than not – he thinks they would work together, but not as much as we would hope for as a citizenry, as constituents.
In order to go beyond party lines and pass substantial bills, the people will have to vote for centrist candidates, he said.
In choosing a centrist candidate, one should look at the track record of an individual, in the respect of party lines, and then believe that based upon their track record, the individual has the capacity and capability to cross party lines, he said.
The Senate has always attracted centrist candidates, even historically, as opposed to the House and particularly contemporary House.
He used Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, two center-left incumbent senators, as examples to prove that if they win their seats again, people are still voting for centrist candidates and in general still believe that center, center-left or center-right candidates are important for the art of compromise and that there is plenty of space for them to perform, especially in the Senate, he said.
“In that case, that would be a second silver lining that people are still crossing party lines and supporting these so-called centrist candidates,” he said.
His initial prediction is that the number of votes cast for the midterm will be higher compared to the average, and recent data show early voting is increasing across the country. Georgia and Texas are beating their old records.
“You see a lot of enthusiasm coming out of people lining up for hours to vote before election day,” he said. “So enthusiasm is definitely increasing, mobilization is increasing.”
It’s good that more people are voting, and he thinks there is plenty of motivation from both sides to vote.
“I think there’s plenty at stake,” not only with the midterm, “but also in 2020,” he said.
Historically, the majority of people who tend to vote early and absentee vote democratic.
Although there is more mobilization of people intending to vote within the Democratic ranks than the Republican ranks, it is pretty energetic from both sides. A couple months before the election, Democrats had about a 10 percent lead, which he said had closed to about 4 percent within a couple weeks of election day.
The discarding of early and absentee votes is happening now to some extent and will have effects primarily in Democratic circles, he said. He noted that in North Dakota, some initial ballots were being thrown out because of technicalities. A Georgia federal court just ruled that people whose ballots are being thrown out must be informed before election day so that they have the time to recast their ballot, he said.
The problem with provisional ballots is that you may cast them, but you then only have a few days based on state law by which you must prove your identity or eligibility to vote, and this is often not enough time for people to do so. In these cases, in essence, their votes have not been counted, he said.
“Which obviously goes against the fabric of one person equaling one vote,” he said.
It’s still very important to pay attention to state and local politics, because although they don’t have as much traction as presidential or Congressional elections in terms of getting people excited, they have a huge impact, he said. This is especially true with state attorney generals becoming more partisan and with legislatures having the right to gerrymander.
“People tend to pay more attention to what’s happening on the federal level, even though what happens in Santa Fe and Albuquerque has a bigger impact on them,” he said.
The media to a large extent contributes to the focus on national interest because it is simpler to talk about Congress as a whole and the president, as opposed to 50 different state legislatures.
If people want local and state political news, they should subscribe to local newspapers and stations. Sites we look at, such as Google and Facebook, are plucking the stories from somewhere, and if local outlets go out of business because they don’t have enough subscribers, those stories won’t be plucked because fewer people will be writing them, he said. Less of that feed will find its way to social media platforms. Although some of these platforms may have people who fact-check, they don’t have journalists who do original reporting.
“I think it’s obviously an important election, to say the least,” he said.
There are only two examples in modern day presidential and congressional history in which a president comes into office and his party actually gains seats in the House two years later in the midterm elections – Clinton and the Democrats in 1998, and Bush and the Republicans in 2002, he said. Mostly the opposite is true: He noted Clinton and 1994, Bush and 2006, and Obama and both 2010 and 2012.
Taking this into account, the momentum is definitely on the side of the Democrats.
However, if you look at the demographics of who come out to vote in the midterm elections, they’re primarily older, rural and Caucasian, and in that case, they tend to support the Republicans more than the Democrats.
He thinks that it is vital for the Democrats to energize their millennials and ages 35 to 55 to turn up in voter droves, otherwise it will be difficult for Democrats to have a sizeable majority in the House.
It is difficult to predict what will happen with the Independent voters, because looking at the history of midterms compared to the presidential election, it is usually more so about driving the base because the bases give each party a better chance at winning a house or both houses.
From the international perspective, he doesn’t think there will be a lot of change, because the likelihood of the Republicans or the Democrats controlling both houses is small. It will likely be a split Congress, whereby the Republicans control one house and the Democrats control the other, he said. Based upon polls, which have been wrong, it seems the Democrats will take control of the House, but not the Senate.
Even if the Democrats controlled both post November 6th, there would likely be plenty of vetoing because of Trump being in office through 2020 – just as Bush vetoed from 2006 to 2008, he said.
From the domestic perspective, he said the midterms are pretty much a referendum on Nancy Pelosi and Trump, even though Trump is not on the ballot and Pelosi is likely to win her reelection. Republicans say that if you don’t want Pelosi in that capacity or believe Trump is doing a good job, vote Republican. Democrats say if you are unhappy with Trump and 2016, vote Democrat. He added that Trump has said plenty of times that a vote for the Republican Party is not a vote for Republicans, but for him.
“The problem is that the parties in particular are not talking about policy to that extent,” he said.
According to polls, education is the most important rationale for Millennials voting one way or another, and for most other people it is primarily health care, he said.
In terms of New Mexico’s races, the results aren’t likely to have much impact nationally because not much would change in the House. Districts 1 and 3 are likely to go blue, although 2 is interesting, because it would be a change and is presently a toss-up, he said. He referenced the Web sites fivethirtyeight.com and nmpoliticalreport.com.
In the case of New Mexico’s gubernatorial election, it is being contested in a big way. It is possible that the Democrats take control of the governor’s seat away from the Republicans. He noted that Grisham said that if she becomes the governor, she would legalize recreational marijuana, which would allow New Mexico to have national impact as it continued the trend of legalizing recreational marijuana across the country.
It is too early to predict what will happen in the election of 2020, and to simply say that one person is the front-runner means nothing because plenty will change in the next couple of years, he said.
Although history basically suggests there are very few one-term presidents, giving Trump a good shot at being reelected, we have no idea what is going to come out of the Mueller investigation, how the economy will fare in the next two years, or how immigration will play in the next couple of years. We also don’t know if another Republican or a slate of Republicans will challenge him in the primary, although we do know that the Democratic contingent is likely to be very broad – a reverse of 2012, when Obama was unopposed, but a number of Republicans ran against him.
“So I think it’s too early to predict, even though the media, I’m pretty sure, Nov. 7 will start predicting,” he said.
He listed other elections that he said showcase that populism is on the rise around the world – Duterte in the Philippines, Modi in India, Erdoğan in Turkey, Orban in Hungary, Brexit, Trump and the U.S., and Bolsonaro in Brazil. All are populist leaders, he said.
“I wouldn’t say nationalism yet, but populism definitely is on the rise across the world,” he said.
Particularly in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro won the recent presidential runoff election with 55 percent over Fernando Haddad’s 45 percent. Bolsonaro believed that the military who controlled the country for a very long time did not kill enough people, he said. He is an openly homophobic individual and positioned himself as Brazil’s Trump.
“I think it’s economic uncertainty, economic anxiety that is fed by immigration, lack of jobs, lack of opportunities, lack of good paying jobs,” he said. Opportunities are not just being taken by the export of jobs, but also from automation, mechanization and artificial intelligence.
In addition to economic anxiety, the rise in populism has a lot to do with race and ethnic politics – identity politics. Its undertone, along with that of gender in the case of 2016 America, has a lot to do with populism’s rise in the U.S., he said.
“I think it’s difficult to prove and disprove because, let’s be honest, people are going to lie to a pollster, but you cannot ever take that out of the equation,” he said.
How do you basically play identity politics? he asked.
Across the world it is ethnic, he said. In the case of Brazil, it’s the difference if you are European Brazilian or African Brazilian. In the case of India, it’s religious politics. In Britain, it’s class struggle – class politics. In the E.U. today, it’s fascism and Nazism and immigration. In the case of the U.S., it is racial, ethnic, and more so after 2016, gender.
“Plenty of ways to divide and rule, right?” he said. “Even today in 2018, it somehow is working. It’s working well, actually.”
It is very important for students and people in general to vote, and people’s votes do count, he said. It’s the simplest way they can give back to the country, and it is their civic duty.
“What better way to express your opinion, either your like or your dislike … of politics,” he said.
“You, rightfully so, expect a lot of benefits given to you by the most powerful country to-date in history, but on the other side of the spectrum, you also have a lot to give back to the country,” he said. “It has to be a two-way street.”
Uppal is an instructor of the writer.