Know the issues: 2014 midterm elections

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Know the issues: 2014 midterm elections

Paige Thompson and Jims Porter

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By the time Election Day comes and goes, many Americans have had enough politics to last them until the next campaign season. Though some decisions are made directly at the polls by the voters, most changes in the political process come after the ballots have been counted.

Recent years have shown a rise in issue voting, or selecting candidates based on how closely their views on issues match the voter’s own. Resources like OnTheIssues.org, a website that summarizes candidates’ views on various issues, help voters determine which candidate will best represent them and the issues they consider important.

“Elections really have consequences because different parties have different platforms on issues. Whoever you elect will work towards their specific set of policies that they support,” said Rhonda Wrzenski, assistant professor of political science.

“It’s important to go vote,” she said, “but you also have to keep in mind that when you’re voting for someone, [you need to] have realistic expectations, because you’re only voting for one person. No matter… how committed they are to a particular issue, they may or may not be able to support it. They need the support and cooperation of the president as well as the other members in that institution to be successful.”

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the political process doesn’t end when the lever is pulled. For issue and party voters alike, the battle over hot-button issues like abortion, immigration and the environment continues.

Here is a quick reference guide to some of the most talked about issues from this election, and whether your candidate of choice wins or loses, the debate over these issues is sure to wage on.

ECONOMY

Many surveys indicate that the economy remains one of the top issues on voter’s minds. A recent Pew report finds that 48 percent of voters consider economic and job recovery one of the top two most important issues to their vote for Congress.

President Obama said that “The economy is stronger that it’s been in a very long time,” at a news conference at the end of last year. By many metrics, his statement was true; unemployment was at a five-year low, the stock market continuing to recover, and key industries, like automotive and housing, continued to improve.

September’s jobs report, released by The Bureau of Labor Statistics in early October, confirmed these findings. Employers had added 248,000 jobs in one month and unemployment dropped below 6 percent for the first time since before the recession.

In spite of outperforming economic predictions, voters remain apprehensive about the state of the economy.

Wrzenski said many voters, often refered to as “pocketbook voters,” consider their own personal financial situation when casting their vote.

“If you feel your personal situation has gotten worse, you will be open to considering a challenger in the election. Economic circumstances… can impact voting behavior.”

LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA

Though the legalization of marijuana for recreational use is only on the ballot in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Colombia this election, some media coverage has deemed 2014 the “Marijuana Midterms.”

These ballot measures represent growth of the legalization movement, positioning recreational legalization to be one of the biggest issues in 2016.

Though she does not see it as a primary issue in this campaign cycle, Wrzenski agrees the outcome could position it to be a bigger issue in the next election.

“As more states legalize… it is harder for the federal government to ignore and take a passive stance on the issue,” she said.

This movement is especially important to some in Kentucky, where a strong lobby working for the legalization of hemp—marijuana’s less fun cousin. Hemp was once a staple for many Kentucky farms. Although it is still classified as a controlled substance, a farm bill earlier this year legalized industrial hemp production for research.

Wrzenski said that even though many voters see the two issues as being synonymous, she doesn’t think they have to be.

Those opposed to the production of hemp believe legalization could decrease their ability to keep marijuana off the street. Others believe the increase in industrial hemp production may indicate a softening on the federal government’s stance on marijuana.

WOMEN’S ISSUES

Equal pay is one of the primary women’s issues in this year’s midterm elections. Some Campaigns, like that of Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, have made this and the Violence Against Women Act two important talking points.

Wrzenski said there has been a shift in popularity in terms of women’s issues. In 2012, there was a lot of media coverage over women’s health and reproductive rights.

“Candidates and voters have shifted in looking at women and reproductive health to looking at women and equal pay,” she said.

That is not to say that contraceptive and reproductive rights have not been a part of this campaign cycle.

In a recent C-Span interview, Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America said that, “despite the fact that polling shows that seven in ten Americans actually support legal access to abortion, we only have three in ten governors who support full and legal access to abortions.”

Hogue added in the interview, “Women’s access to our own healthcare decisions is not a single issue. If we can’t make our own choices, there is no such thing as economic equality; there is no such thing as job security if we can’t actually have access to full family planning. This is a fundamental issue,” she said.

EDUCATION

Education is one of the hot button topics of this midterm election. Wrzenski said this is because so many governors are up for reelection across the country.

Incumbents, in some ways, will have to run on decisions they made several years ago when the economy was worse, Wrzenski said. Those decisions often included cuts to education.

“It’s easy for a challenger to criticize the incumbent for cutting education… because that is not popular.”

Though many states are adopting the Common Core State Standards, Indiana is not one of them. Kentucky, however, adopted the standards in 2010 and implemented them during the 2011-2012 school year.

The Common Core State Standards are a set of high-quality academic standards in Mathematics, and English language arts/literacy.

Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Governor Mike Pence have been at odds with his new education agencies such as the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which was created to “align the state’s workforce development efforts under one roof,” Indiana Public Media reports.

In March, Indiana became the first state to drop the Common Core Educational Standards, an initiative heavily associated with President Obama.

“I think anything affiliated with the president tends to be seen in a negative light this election, and common core is just another one of those aspects that people are equating in that way,” said Wrzenski.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) are making large strides to bring voters to the polls on Election Day. Wrzesnki said that representatives from the HRC have made appearances and ran ads in several states supporting democratic candidates.

Same-sex couples currently have the freedom to marry in 32 states. Three additional states, Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, are situated to follow suit.

Though same-sex marriages have recently become legal in Indiana, Kentucky still has a pending decision. Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, running for Senate in Kentucky, supports allowing same-sex marriages.

“I believe others should have the opportunity to make that same commitment,” Grimes said, as reported by The Huffington Post.

Others, like republican senate candidate Ron Grooms of Indiana, oppose same-sex marriages.

“We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so,” he said.

“Support for LBGT issues can be an effective selling point in more progressive states,” Wrzenski said. “But it won’t be an issue that will appear universally in every state. You’ll hear about it in states where it would be to the advantage of the Democratic candidate.”