Could the winner’s rhetoric after a marginal election victory influence voter behaviour next time? The US mid-term elections may provide the answer…


Tomorrow – November 6th, 2018 – is the official voting day for the mid-term elections in the United States of America. In recent years, there have been a few unexpected election results, including the US presidential election of 2016. This is the first follow-up vote and will show if the shock of the previous result has had any impact on voter behaviour.

What’s really interesting is the behaviour of the victors. Their rhetoric suggests they have a strong mandate despite the small margin of their victory. The new presidents of the US and Brazil have vocalised strong views including being against welfare, immigration, and human rights. They express support for torture, and risk conflicts by prioritising nationalism over globalisation. Meanwhile, the UK is facing Brexit, the vote to leave the European Union. Its supporters are pushing for a strong detachment, with a similar rhetoric about immigration, human rights and nationalism.

But do their victories suggest there is a majority support amongst the population for their views?

The image below shows the results for the EU referendum vote held in the UK in June 2016; the US presidential election in November 2016; and, the Brazil president election in October 2018.

Summary of Election Results

Summary of Election Results

In all three, the winner barely made the majority required to win. Being close to 50% suggests the chosen political direction is all but a random choice. Either each country is made up of two different populations of similar size who somehow just about manage to get along on a day-to-day basis despite their polarising ‘left vs right’ political views. Or perhaps each country contains a population not overly impressed with any of the political options on offer, leaving them undecided about which to vote for.

Either way, the results do not suggest over-whelming support for the victor. It’s a bold strategy to ignore the near-half population who didn’t vote for you. Can a weak victory sustain strong views beyond a single election?* This is in part influenced by how the alternative – the losing party – has responded. If they’ve mirrored the behaviour, then change is unlikely…

That’s what makes the 2018 US mid-terms so interesting. It will be the first indication of whether the rhetoric following a shock election result has had a positive, negative or neutral effect on voter behaviour… Will it increase turnout? Will it provide a much-needed signal that the majority of the population supports or disagrees with the current political direction?

References

Note: US election results are approximate due to disagreement between sources. Individual categories will not add up to the total electorate. 

* Brexit is a different case given it is a one-time vote… the only way to find out whether or not the rhetoric was truly supported by the majority would be to hold a second referendum…


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