The NCSL Blog


By Kevin Frazzini

When midterm elections roll around, most voters aren’t thinking about their legislature.

Illustration of elephant and donkey awaiting wave“State legislative elections rarely are a referendum on what state legislators do themselves but instead are dominated by national politics,” says Saint Louis University political scientist Steven Rogers.

His research indicates that voters’ assessment of the president matters three times more than their opinion of the legislature.

November’s midterm will be no different, write NCSL election experts Tim Storey and Wendy Underhill in the September/October issue of State Legislatures magazine. Right down the ballot, the thinking goes, each party’s fate is tied to voters’ perception of the president.

If that’s true, GOP state lawmakers have reason for concern. President Donald Trump’s approval rating currently languishes at 39.9 percent, according to the polling site FiveThirtyEight.

But, as in every election, there are wrinkles that could make things interesting. One is the economy, which for now is doing well. That could favor Republicans. Democrats are highly motivated, are opposing an unpopular president and are fielding more candidates than at any time in the last 40 years. That includes record numbers of women, not just in response to Trump’s presidency and the #MeToo movement, but also a lack of action on issues such as access to Planned Parenthood, paid family leave and pay equity.

With much to debate as November approaches, Storey and Underhill write that there’s no argument on one point: Elections matter, this one perhaps more than most.

But picking candidates isn’t voters’ only job come November. As of earlier this month, more than 150 constitutional amendments, statutory changes and bonds had been certified to appear on ballots in 39 states, according to another of NCSL’s elections experts, Patrick R. Potyondy. Of them, 63 initiatives and five popular referendums are on the ballots in 22 states because citizens put them there.

Potyondy walks us through the many measures, addressing everything from funding schools and limiting taxes to redistricting reform and restoration of voting rights.

It’s a wide-ranging list, ensuring that plenty of big issues will be in play nationwide.

Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of NCSL’s State Legislatures magazine.


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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.