With lackluster economic growth at home and foreign policy threats abroad, the serious issues facing the country’s voters have changed little since Bush’s earliest years in office. Terrorism and the economy are the top issues concerning voters in the upcoming midterm elections, just as they were in 2002.
In the few months leading up to the 2002 midterm elections, 42% of registered Democratic voters listed terrorism as the most important political issue, along with 51% of Republican voters. A poll conducted in July 2002 found 40% of Americans listed the economy as “the most important problem facing America today,” while 30% listed “Terrorism/National Security/War.” Voters knew that the elections would influence how the country would respond to the events of September 11 in the years to come.
Since 9/11, terrorism has never truly stopped being important to American voters or legislators. But the rise of ISIS and the looming likelihood of American involvement in Iraq and Syria has made the issue more urgent and relevant to the upcoming elections. In a Pew survey conducted earlier this month, 87% of registered Republican voters claimed terrorism is “very important” to their vote for Congress, compared to 52% of registered Democrats. The only issue deemed more important for Republican voters was the economy, which 88% of voters claimed was “very important.” The Democrats weren’t too far behind, with 78% listing the economy as a “very important” issue.
In that same survey, Abortion and Gay Marriage were deemed “about equally important” to Republican and Democratic voters. The most important issue to Democrats was health care, with 80% listing it as “very important.” The increased interest in health care as an important issue is perhaps the biggest indicator that the political landscape in 2014 is obviously different than it was 12 years ago. The Affordable Care Act was a landmark piece of legislation that — despite incessant arguments both for and against — will have consequences (again, both positive and negative) on the American public for years to come.
The continued importance of the economy and terrorism, however, suggests that the country has some difficulty solving its problems. Of course, growing the economy and stopping terrorism internationally are tasks so immense that they’d be impossible to complete in 12 years (if ever). Yet each election has the potential to bring people to Washington with a fresh perspective to these issues, to perhaps not fix them but at least to push them in the right direction.
In reality, elections have turned into competitive sport for political control, with two teams competing and far too many returning players. Out of the 36 Senate seats up for grabs in 2014, only seven Senators — five Democrats and two Republicans — will not be seeking re-election. Of the 435 House members, only 41 will not be seeking re-election. 13 of those representatives are only leaving their positions to pursue a spot in the Senate.
According to the most recent Real Clear Politics poll compilation on Congressional job approval, 14% of respondents approved and 78.3% disapproved.
The American public clearly wants things to change, but the nation’s recent history and the upcoming election forecasts suggest that true change is unlikely. The most significant change predicted by The Washington Post is that Republicans will gain a majority in the Senate, which could have interesting consequences throughout Obama’s final two years in office. No matter how the makeup of Congress turns out after this year’s elections, those in office will be forced to deal with the issues that have been plaguing us for more than a decade.