It’s election year and pundits across the political spectrum are speculating about what will drive the electorate next November. In 2014 in North Carolina, the Kay Hagan campaign almost made the election about public education and almost bucked a national GOP wave. However, in October, ISIS and Ebola drove fear in the hearts of Americans and Obama’s seemingly inadequate response shifted the tide to give Thom Tillis the narrowest of victories.
So what will it be this year?
A month ago, the pundits were sure it would be about terrorists. The attack in Paris and shooting in San Bernardino scared Americans and the Syrian refugee crisis drove much the media’s attention. Today, the incidents seem to have faded some in the collective public consciousness. But we’re just one attack away from fear and loathing again and an attack next fall could hurt Democrats.
Immigration still looms large in some people’s minds, but a story today notes that the number of undocumented immigrants is shrinking, not growing. While immigration will certainly be a topic during the year, it probably won’t drive the debate except for those who want to deport everybody and have the Mexicans build a wall.
The wars in the Middle East could grab the public’s attention at any time, particularly if ISIS gets any more of a foothold. However, we’re a war-weary country and, except for those periods when terrorists attack westerners, most people don’t really want to send American soldiers to die in large numbers in countries they couldn’t find on a map. Besides, the situation in Syria and Iraq is so complicated, most people don’t know who are bad guys and who are good guys.
More often than not, the economy drives the election. Barack Obama is touting the longest streak of job growth in recent history but the stock market is plunging everyday. In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory is touting the Carolina Comeback, but statistics show that it’s weak at best. Republicans at the state level crowing about the economy may inadvertently help Democrats, while Democrats carping about the state’s slow recovery may tell the story the national GOP is trying to make.
In reality, we have an uneven recovery. Upper middle class and wealthy people seem to be doing just fine, but lower middle class folks are getting left behind. Wages are flat and benefits are down. Too many families are still carrying too much debt. Higher education is getting prohibitively expensive and students coming out of school can’t find jobs that provide enough income enough to pay off their loans.
In Washington, both parties are spending more time trying score political points than solve any of these problems. Our biggest problem is a dysfunctional political system that’s driven more by special interests than the needs of average citizens. Politicians are more worried about offending donors and getting re-elected than making progress. That’s a problem that elections were designed to fix and that’s the issue that should drive the electorate in 2016. Making government work again should be the top priority, regardless of what big money interests and entrenched politicians want us to believe.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com, a website of commentary and analysis.