2014 Midterms: Global is the New Local

As Peter Feaver listened to Michael Schoenfeld (our panel moderator for the latest installment of Duke’s Election Discussion Series) read aloud from a New York Times’ article outlining the Republican’s “decidedly grim” campaign message of a “government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm,” he felt an acute sense of deja vu from October of 2006.

Then – just like now – international issues played a prominent role in midterm elections, something Feaver, a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, said was outside the historical norm.

Speaking at Thursday’s international relations-focused election discussion, Feaver pointed to several reasons for the emphasis on international relations and, specifically, national security. For one, the number of distinct situations happening around the world — from Ebola to sanctions on Russia to the southern border — have a “pile on” effect.

Add to that the fact that Republicans have “issue ownership” on national security — meaning that historically the public tends to support a Republican approach to the issue — and that “you would be hard pressed to find a foreign policy issue that is going well for the President.” This all leads to a situation that appears to be politically advantageous for the Republicans, and current campaigns reflect that.

However, Paul Teller (T ’93), a longtime Congressional aide and current chief of staff to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), says Republicans still have to be careful. “[National security] is definitely a card Republican’s can play, but it’s not a slam dunk,” he said. “The card can be overplayed, especially when things are outside your control.”

Still, Teller says that recent polling by Kellyanne Conway, a Republican strategist, shows an interesting trend when it comes to the word “security.” Whereas in the past decade, words linked to the concept of security tended to be subjects that have favored Democrats, such as “income,” “Social,” and “food,” this time around poll respondents were linking words such as “national,” “financial,” and “border,”  all words that “tend to favor a Republican audience.”

Teller highlighted Scott Brown (R-NH) as one candidate capitalizing on this trend. Brown’s campaign has recently begun blending issues of immigration with foreign policy over the traditional messaging relating immigration to jobs and the economy. The result has been an improvement in the polls, and Teller is not surprised. Senator Cruz, he said, has seen similar trends as he’s campaigned for candidates across the nation.

“Voters are beginning to feel that foreign policy issues are no longer ‘over there,'” Teller said. “They’re now in our backyard and ‘right here.’ And that makes them more immediate.”

You can watch the full discussion here.

Next week’s discussion focuses on income inequality, led on campus by William A. Darity, Jr., the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of public policy, African and African American studies and economics; and the director of the Duke Consortium on Social Equality. Joining from Duke in Washington will be Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute.