Midterm elections, often a referendum on the sitting president’s agenda, can set the stage for future policy debates. Economic and social issues with roots in the 1994 midterms are still being debated today.View the lesson plan for this story
Midterm Elections: How 1994 Midterms Set Off an Era of Divisive Politics
Midterm elections are often overlooked by voters because presidential candidates are not on the ballot. However, midterm elections are also viewed as a referendum vote on the first two years of a president’s term. Two years into the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Republican Party used the 1994 elections as a referendum on Clinton, as public opposition mounted against his liberal policy efforts on healthcare, gun laws and gay people serving in the military.
The conservative movement, fueled by talk radio, was harnessed by Newt Gingrich, architect of the Contract with America, a blueprint to shrink government and rein in spending. The Republicans used the Contract with America to nationalize the election, a change from the conventional focus on state and local issues. Gingrich assembled a slate of conservative Republicans who swept to victory in the 1994 elections, ending the four-decades-long Democratic majority in the House.
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