Get out and go vote! It's Election Day in the 2017 municipal elections, and deciding the fate of several top-level positions is in Triad voters' hands.
Political analyst and Elon Poll director Jason Husser joined the Good Morning Show team in studio Tuesday for an election day Q&A:
Q: Let’s talk about voter *turnout. Last year during the presidential election North Carolina had nearly 69% voter turnout. This year – we have neither a presidential race nor a governor’s race. What can we expect for turnout?
A: "This is an off-off-cycle election, off a presidential cycle and off a congressional cycle, which tends to make turnout very low. The last time we had a cycle like this was November 2015. Guilford and Alamance Counties had turnout just over 11% while Forsyth was just under 9%.
If local elections were held at the same time as presidential elections, more people would vote in them, but it would be very difficult for local candidates to get their voice out given how much presidential races dominate life in those months.
Anytime we mention low turnout though, it's important to remember that low turnout means a person's vote matters even more than normal because your vote isn't competing with as many others. When you vote today, your vote has a much higher probability of tipping the scales for your preferred candidate. So don't be discouraged from voting today!"
Q: Here in the Triad – three big mayoral races today – Greensboro, High Point and Burlington. Based on your recent polls, what are some of the key issues voters care about most in selecting a mayor?
A: "While most polls tend to be statewide or national, not just about cities, we're seeing several patterns across right now. Several national surveys show immigration and health care dominating in terms of federal issues, but, on the local level, people have historically first thought about education, crime, traffic and local jobs when they go to the polls."
Q: There’s a huge race political experts are watching in Virginia – the hotly-contested governor’s race. Why is this race important to analyze?
A: "Polls for the Virginia governor's race have had a great deal of volatility, but overall they show a tight race. The race has gotten a lot of attention because it is seen as the biggest preview of the 2018 midterm election. The Virginia governor race is thought of as a bellwether race right now because Virginia is a big, diverse swing-state that Clinton won back in November and the Democratic candidate for Governor started with a sizable lead. If the Republican Gillespie wins or even comes close to winning today, Republicans across the country will feel more confident going into the incredibly important 2018 midterms."
Q: Let’s look at the results of your latest Elon Poll. One question you asked voters was – how is Donald Trump handling the job of president? Approximately 58 percent said they disapprove, and 34 percent said they approved. How might this sentiment affect races on the local level today?
A: "The president retains a loyal following with about one-third of all voters in the state, but his approval level is historically low for any president, much less a president still in his first year. History has shown a clear pattern of parties with unpopular presidents losing substantial number of Congressional seats in midterm election. However, the connection between an unpopular president and punishment for his party at the local level is far less clear because turnout is such an X factor. All elections are stories about turnout, but that is even more the case in races like those today. Because turnout is so hard to predict, big surprises can happen if one group decides they have it in the bag or if another side decides they don't have a shot."
Q: Historically does the popularity of the president’s party influence the popularity of candidates at the local level? Is there a correlation?
A: "Party identification is the best predictor of voting at all levels- from president to governor to mayor. Republicans will tend to vote for a Republican candidate just as Democrats tend to vote for Democratic municipal officials. However, many voters will know local candidate personally. And those personal connections often can override personal leanings. That's the great thing about federalism- we can end up with a diversity of political parties representing us."
Q: As political analyst, what themes are you looking for in today’s results?
A: "I'm most concerned about turnout today. Unfortunately, most people miss a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in their communities when they don't get around to voting in municipal elections. It can seem a bit harder to learn about candidates in local races because local campaigns can't afford all of the ads we see for president or senator. But, in many ways, for our day to day lives, your local mayor or council member can be as important as the president or senator. These are people who decide what structures can be built, how to manage traffic, what to do to fight crime or to foster healthy communities. High levels of turnout in mayoral races indicates, to me, that a community cares about its future. In that sense, turning out to vote alone is a sign of community pride."