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Anticipating the 2018 Midterm Elections (October 2018): Past Analyses to Shape Future Occurrences

By Will Miller

Past Analyses to Shape Future Occurrences

With a broad understanding of how campaigns and elections have evolved over time to meet available technologies, the demands of voters, and the realities of seeking power in government, one can now begin to examine case studies of previous elections and campaigns to see how theories have been put into action. Through collections of election analyses, one is able to see how candidates from different districts and states have chosen to engage with citizens in hopes of victory. Moreover, scholars use these volumes to help draw common threads across various elections to help readers identify common themes and see how they compare and contrast with previous elections. Given that new approaches emerge at different times in different parts of the country, such works help identify growing trends and anticipate developments between election cycles.

Sean Foreman and Marcia Godwin have recently taken over editorship of “The Roads to Congress” series, including the most recent edition: The Roads to Congress 2016: American Elections in a Divided Landscape. Every two years at the completion of election season, scholars come together to analyze local and national House and Senate campaigns to determine how emerging campaign dynamics have a collective impact on American politics. In the current edition, ten House races and a dozen Senate races are analyzed to examine how candidates carried out campaigns. Further, the impact Trump and Clinton had on these races is considered. All of the case studies are contextualized by four introductory chapters that look at key characteristics of the 2016 election season, including changes to voter registration laws and candidate use of Twitter. Beyond providing great insights and analysis, the chapters are eminently readable, allowing readers to make connections between different races.

Foreman and Goodwin have also edited Local Politics and Mayoral Elections in 21st Century America: The Keys to City Hall, which examines key mayoral races from the 2013 cycle. Given that large cities tend to offer laboratories to look at electoral trends in urban politics, it is essential to understand how campaigns are being undertaken in these metropolitan areas facing different—yet equally significant—problems. Written by scholars who have expertise in elections, local politics, urban policy, and governance, this volume of readable essays provides commentary and analysis on elections at a more local level.

While published in 2011 during the height of the Tea Party Movement, this reviewer’s volume with Jeremy Walling—Tea Party Effects on 2010 U.S. Senate Elections: Stuck in the Middle to Lose—is useful when considering the current state of the Republican Party. Each contribution shows how mainstream Republican candidates—along with party followers—respond when challenged by more fringe candidates. Given how Republicans are having to decide today whether or not to embrace Trump and his agenda, there are congruencies between the two scenarios. If a candidate aligns too closely with the president, he or she risks alienating the moderate arm of the party; fail to align at all and risk Trump supporters turning to a more extreme candidate in a primary. As scholars examine how different factors determine whether fringe candidates are likely to succeed or not in their respective elections, trends emerge that can be used to inform candidates and consultants in future elections.

Likewise, this reviewer’s The 2012 Nomination and the Future of the Republican Party: The Internal Battle, looks at the inner workings and battles within the Republican Party today. Focused on how the party has become so divided, the chapters examining each of the 2012 Republican Primary candidates (remember when Herman Cain was in the lead and presumed favorite?) seek to learn what worked and didn’t work for each campaign. With the Republican Party still feeling as split as it did in 2012, lessons learned from the Mitt Romney era can help readers identify why unity seems so hard to achieve and possibly identify small steps that can be taken to re-root the party in conservative values.

A mix between practical and theoretical approaches, Douglas Brattebo et al.’s two-part series Culture, Rhetoric, and Voting: The Presidential Election of 2012 and A Transformation in American National Politics: The Presidential Election of 2012 looks at how things like rhetoric, demographics, voting, psychology, geography, and policy came together to shape the Obama-Romney outcome. While six years have passed since that election, the chapters within these volumes still provide insights to look for in subsequent election case studies.

Stephen Wayne’s The Road to the White House 2016 looks at the legal, political, and financial frameworks for the 2016 presidential election results. From the nomination process to election strategies to the impact of new facets of campaigns like Super PACs and microtargeting, the volume attempts to holistically examine the race from beginning to end. Ultimately, these case studies help to bridge practical and theoretical understandings of campaigns and elections, and they provide readers with empirical analyses on which to base future understandings.