The economy remains the number one topic of concern for most people, but will that be a motivating factor in getting voters to the polls? In the non-presidential 2018 midterms, between 42% and 45% of registered voters in Montgomery, Greene, Clark, and Preble counties did not cast ballots. (Shame on you).
In this cycle, an unusual number of issues could motivate voters. Paul Beck, the professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, helped me break them down.
Dobbs. The ruling that struck down Roe v. Wade has motivated women. Ohio has the second largest increase of women as a percentage of newly registered voters in the country (+6.4%), according to the New York Times. Additionally, 58% of people registered to vote in Ohio since Dobbs are under 35, a group traditionally holding the strongest pro-choice views.
“I think the Dobbs has caused a lot of women, Republican women as well, to think, ‘Wait a minute? Do I really want to live in a world in which the freedom of choice is heavily circumscribed?’” Beck noted.
Trump: The continued coverage of the Mar-a-Lago records seizure and the soon-to-be resumed Jan. 6 committee hearings will continue through this cycle. “The real key to this is, what are the reaction of people who are kind of on the fence, (like) independents and people who voted for Trump back in 2020 but are now having doubts and second thoughts about that vote?” Beck asked.
Money: Where do the candidates get it from? Candidates that get more money from national sources might show weaker local support. In the Senate race, Tim Ryan, for example, has outraised J.D. Vance, who is getting millions from national groups to prop up his campaign.
Polls: Individual polls show how people feel today but don’t necessarily predict future behavior. Just last week, a Suffolk University poll has Ryan (D) leading Vance (R) in the Ohio Senate race by 1 point. But the poll has a margin of error of 4.4 points, meaning Ryan could be up +5.4 or down – 3.4%. Polling averages, like the ones on 538.com, are a little more valuable since they average together a number of different polls. The 538 average also has Ryan with a slight, early advantage. “No single poll is entirely reliable,” Beck noted.
Bifurcation: Normally, when an incumbent president has a bad approval rating, he becomes a drag on down party candidates. Joe Biden’s approval sits at 42.7%, below Clinton, Bush, and Obama but better than Trump during the same point in their presidencies.
Interestingly, early indicators show voters differentiating their views of Biden and other democrats. “That’s unusual because in the past, (approval ratings) tended to go together,” Beck said.
The Dobbs and Trump effects may have something to do with that separation.
There are caveats. Just because people register to vote doesn’t mean they will vote. We’re still weeks away from Election Day, and who knows what other issues will come up between now and then?
There is one thing we can be confident of, though.
For those of us that care about elections and their outcomes, this one has so many moving parts it’s hard to tell which way the political winds blow. You just can’t read one tea leaf this time around.
Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday. You can send him a question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.