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Opinion

What’s motivating ’18 voters

Three questions drive voters on Election Day.

Voters cast their ballots at PS198M The Straus

Voters cast their ballots at PS198M The Straus School on Nov. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Michael Reaves

No one truly knows what will happen on Tuesday, when voters will elect 435 House members, three dozen governors and a third of the Senate along with a host of state and local officials.

Still, three questions will drive voters on Election Day:

1. Do women matter? At the heart of this election is what women voters think and how they feel; they are running in historically high numbers. This really could be the “year of the women.” With women in only 1 out of 5 elected positions on Capitol Hill, this election could see an even greater number of women serving in Congress in a country where they comprise more than half the population and outvote men in most elections. This could be a #MeToo moment.

Moreover, the hangover from the Supreme Court-confirmation battle also will affect how women (and men) vote. In many ways, Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford might as well be listed on the ballot because voters will remember the divisive confirmation hearings, and the election results will let us know how the hearings affected voters.

2. Will immigration change hearts and minds? Clearly, President Donald Trump believes border issues will divide voters in ways that favor Republican candidates. Not even a strong economy and unemployment below 4 percent trump everything in this campaign. Traditionally, Americans have responded well to an inclusive and diverse United States, viewing immigrants as important to our economy and way of life. But in the weeks leading to Tuesday’s vote, Trump has painted a portrait of dangerous people arriving in a caravan to face off with U.S. soldiers. Trump’s rhetoric could sway voters’ emotions in Republicans’ favor.

3. Who will care? The election hinges on voter turnout, which is usually low for midterms. The last midterm saw only about 1 in 3 eligible voters casting ballots. Crossing 49 percent turnout would constitute a mention in The Guinness Book of World Records. If early voting this year is a sign, the United States might get that mention. However, distrust of the voting system, the foul mood of many voters, and the lack of confidence in the news media reporting fairly and all organizations of government could ensure that people tune out rather than turn out.

Much is unclear. But one thing we can count on is a long night probing these questions and some breaking news to keep all of us guessing.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

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