WASHINGTON (AP) — From his home in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Graeme Dean says there’s a lot of disheartening about the state of the country and politics these days. At the center of one of the year’s most competitive US Senate races, he is under a constant barrage of heavy-handed advertising that makes it easy to focus on what’s going wrong.
But the 40-year-old English teacher has no intention of distancing himself from the democratic process. In fact, he believes the first national election since the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is “more meaningful” than in years past.
“This could very well sway the country in one direction or the other,” said the Democratic-leaning independent.
Dean is hardly alone in feeling the weight of these choices. A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 71% of registered voters think the very future of the United States is at stake when they vote this year. That’s true for voters who prefer Republicans to win a majority in Congress and those who want Democrats to remain in control, though probably for different reasons.
While about two-thirds of voters say they are pessimistic about politics, an overwhelming majority across party lines — about 8 in 10 — say voting this year is extremely or very important.
The findings show how this year’s midterms are taking place in a unique environment, with voters exhausted by the political process and determined to participate in shaping it. This could result in high turnout for the midterm elections.
In the politically divided state of Michigan, for example, over 150,000 voters have already cast absentee ballots. A total of 1.6 million people have requested an absentee ballot so far, surpassing the 1.16 million who chose that option in the 2018 midterm elections.
In follow-up interviews, survey respondents expressed strong concerns about the country’s direction despite agreeing that things are not working.
Rick Moore, a 67-year-old writer and musician from Las Vegas, said he is unhappy with President Joe Biden, and “not just because I’m a Republican.” Moore called him “more of a puppet” than any other president in his lifetime.
“It’s important to me that the Republicans have control over as much as possible because we’re not going to get rid of a Democratic president anytime soon,” Moore said.
In general, Moore said, he doesn’t like the way Democratic politicians are running their states, including Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, adding that Democrats are “using the word democracy to get us all to do what they want.”
“I just wish my voice was more represented,” he said.
Since the last midterm election, voters have become more negative about the country and people’s rights: 70% say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the US, up from 58% in October 2018.
Republicans have become enormously dissatisfied with a Democrat in the White House. While Democrats have become less negative since Donald Trump left office, they remain largely resentful of the way things are going.
Fifty-eight percent of voters also say they are dissatisfied with the state of individual rights and freedoms in the U.S., up from 42% in 2018. About two-thirds of Republicans are now dissatisfied, after about half said they were satisfied when Trump was in office. okay. Among Democrats, attitudes remained largely the same, with about half dissatisfied.
Shawn Hartlage, 41, doesn’t think her views as a Christian are well-represented, complaining that she would like to vote “for someone who really stood up for what you believe in,” but that it’s still very important to her to vote.
The Republican stay-at-home mother of two in Washington Township, Ohio, said the country’s direction is “devastating,” citing both inflation and a decline in moral values.
“I fear for my children’s future,” Hartlage said. “You always want to leave them with things better than what you had, but it’s definitely not moving in that direction.”
Teanne Townsend of Redford, Michigan, agrees that things are moving backwards. But the 28-year-old has called out abortion, health care and police brutality, particularly in areas where rights are threatened.
“We have minimal progress in the right direction for many areas, especially for minority (groups). Their rights are not the same as the rights of other races and cultures,” said the Democrat, who is African-American.
A child health and mental health specialist, Townsend said she is voting for her constitutional right to abortion this year. If passed, the state ballot initiative would guarantee the right to an abortion in the Michigan Constitution.
“I feel like there’s just a lot at stake,” Townsend said, adding that she’s both “optimistic and nervous” about the outcome, but that it’s “the right thing” for people to be able to vote on it.
The poll found that a majority of voters overall say the outcome of the midterms will have a significant impact on abortion policy, with Democratic voters more likely than Republicans to say so. Most voters along party lines say the outcome will have a big impact on the economy.
More voters say they trust the Republican Party to handle the economy (39% to 29%) as well as crime (38% to 23%). Republicans also have a slight edge on immigration (38% vs. 33%). The Democratic Party is seen as better able to handle abortion policy (45% vs. 22%), health care (42% vs. 25%), and voting laws (39% vs. 29%).
Despite the uncertainty of the outcome, Dean in Pennsylvania believes in the American system to work for the will of the people.
“I think it’s important that our representatives represent what the majority of people want,” Dean said. “That’s what we claim to be doing in this country and it seems like it should happen. And I hope so.”
The poll of 961 registered voters was conducted Oct. 6-10 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
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