In the News

Election 2023 and what it means for 2024

Mike McCartney

7th November 2023

In the USA, this week there is an "off year" election, with plenty going on

As we know, the presidential election cycle is set by the US Constitution, and for historical reasons, elections to Congress are also held alongside this vote and in-between in even years. But a whole host of elections take place in years ending in odd number, so called "off year" elections, and they generally gain a lot of coverage in the US media. And this year is no different. So what's going on?

I am going to work in reverse and point to an explanation of the significance of this stage in the presidential election cycle.

NBC broadcast this.

Questions on the video
1. Which states did the New York Times and Siena (College) poll for the 2024 election?
2. In how many of the six battleground states did Donald Trump have a lead?
3. Which state was the only one where Joe Biden led Donald Trump?
4. How did the polling results in 2019 compare to the current polling results?
5. Which three industrial states did Trump flip in the 2016 election?
6. According to the poll, which state has Trump made the biggest gains in since the 2020 election?
7. Which voting groups are showing more support for Trump compared to before?
8. How many electoral college votes does Biden start off with after reapportionment?
9. Which three states does Trump need to flip in order to win the election?
10. Why is Biden slightly ahead in Wisconsin?

So at this point in time, we are in the pre-primary phase. And so much speculation about the contest for the White House a full year ahead of polling day (the full calendar is here) raises questions about the process for selecting candidates.

Presidential primaries: the case for

  1. Primaries are democratic and post 1968 have opened up selection to party supporters rather than party elders behind closed doors, in smoke filled rooms, as they did with Hubert Humphrey in 1968.
  2. Iowa and New Hampshire have relatively small populations therefore this gives voters the opportunity to meet candidates face to face and indulge in some old fashioned “retail politics”, a process that would not be possible if one of the bigger states was first or if there was a clutch of states voting on the same day.
  3. Primaries are expensive but when we bear in mind that McDonalds spend well over half a billion dollars per year on advertising in the USA then the figures seem much more reasonable.
  4. Those candidates deterred from entering the race due to inability to raise necessary funding most likely do not have what it takes. There is a strong argument to suggest that supporters are looking to back a winner, hence the flow of funding that went to the likes of Clinton, GW Bush, etc.
  5. Money does not necessarily buy success anyway. Most egregiously, Steve Forbes in 2000 spent $40m and failed to win a single state.
  6. Primary campaigns prepare candidates for the general election battle - eg the Hillary v Obama battle arguably sharpened up the Obama campaign and made him as the eventual Democrat nominee more battle hardened.
  7. Primaries can project relatively unknown candidates onto the national stage: Jimmy Carter, it is said, started in Iowa with just a suitcase.
  8. Complaints about low turnout are exaggerated, eg turnout in the 2008 campaign cycle hit record levels, driven by the competitive nature of the Democrat campaign.

Presidential primaries: the case against

  1. Primary voters are not politically representative of the voting population and candidates are forced to court polar opposites of the political spectrum, thus potentially harming their attempt to attract centrist voters post-convention.
  2. The need to campaign for the primaries makes the race for the presidency into a marathon, thus inducing voter fatigue and depressing voter turnout.
  3. The traditionally early state contests in Iowa and New Hampshire are unrepresentative of the wider US voting public. Iowa and NH are rural, conservative, and above average wealth. Therefore the concerns of voters in these states is out of alignment with the rest if the union, e.g. Iowa’s obsession with ethanol subsidies!
  4. Performance in early contests are unreliable indicators of who will secure the presidency, e.g. Bush defeated Reagan in 1980 in Iowa, and thus questions about their prominent place in the calendar remain.
  5. States often squabble about when their primary can be held, and this detracts from the substance of the issues, with the media turning its attention to the battle for state prominence rather than policy analysis.
  6. Contests can be bitter and divisive, e.g. McCain v. Bush 2000. Hardly the best springboard for a successful GE campaign.
  7. Many apparently well qualified candidates drop out due to their inability to raise pots of cash, e.g. Libby Dole in October 1999.
  8. The need for money. And lots of it. Primaries are enormously expensive. The need to campaign early, criss-crossing the US, hire campaign teams, and run expensive adverts necessitates huge funds.
  9. Turnout rates are usually low, with the examples like the 2008 contest being the exception due to a confluence of factors. More common figures are those like the Democrat primary in Connecticut in 2004, for example, attracted just 5% of voters.

As well as unofficial polling, the outcomes in state-wide races in off-years can also provide an indicator as to which way the wind will blow in the General Election. And if that wasn't enough, a number of states are holding referendums which could potentially have a massive impact on the lives of their inhabitants and serve as good examples of federalism in action.

Questions on video 2

1. What are the key races happening in the upcoming election?

2. What is Amendment one in Ohio about?

3. What would Amendment two in Ohio legalize?

4. Which chambers of the Virginia State Legislature are currently controlled by Republicans?

5. What is one part of Glenn Yan's agenda if he gains control of the legislature?

6. Who is challenging Democratic governor Andy Beshear in Kentucky?

7. What is the current situation in the polls between Andy Beshear and his challenger?

8. Who is challenging Republican Governor Tate Reeves in Mississippi?

9. Why do Democrats have a big floor of support in Mississippi?

10. What recent event has affected Tate Reeves' image in Mississippi?

So, quite a lot to monitor over the next few days!

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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