top of page

Midterm Elections or Not: Changing Public Opinion Holds the Key

All the polls say the Dems will take the house. That holds the promise of being a step in the right direction. Many progressive voices that have been muffled in Washington will begin to be heard once again. But gridlock purgatory is a very likely scenario: the Senate can stop any legislative initiative in its tracks. And the Senate is not likely to change hands.

But no matter who wins the House, the work of progressive organizations is clear: change public opinion. Research and trends tell the tale: when public opinion changes, laws change. This has been the case with everything from smoking in public places to reproductive rights, to marriage equality. Momentum occurs when political pressure is applied. Public opinion strikingly influences the law through pressure.

Political pressure affects the speed at which policy becomes law--by either slowing down or speeding up the process. For instance, the economy, or even a politician's charisma can be key factors. Individuals with power and influence may bring the opinions of many others into line with theirs but the crucial issue is still whether the opinion is endorsed by the majority of the people.

Our representatives cannot for very long go against the will of the people, and stay in office. In the end, in a democracy governments have to modify laws that fly in the face of the majority. This makes it very clear that the goal in a Democracy is to advance opinions for the common good, and those issues which are supported by public opinion will become law.

When we, the people or electors want certain laws to be replaced or modified, our representatives pay attention. At one time I was a lobbyist, and I watched many representatives change their tune very quickly and change their vote after hearing differently on an issue from a dozen constituents. I have even seen votes on legislation overturned at the end of the process, on the floor of the full House of Representatives, when enough people protested. It is quite clear in this way that there is a close affinity between public opinion and law because laws represent the will of the people, our will. Our system of government does work.

The High Court

While it's true that the Supreme Court has a clear conservative majority now, it should also be clear that sometimes justices surprise us. A recent surprise was justice Robert's vote to keep the ACA in place. Opponents of the Affordable Care Act took this route to challenge the law, better known as Obamacare. Not long after Congress passed Obamacare, officials from Florida and other states tried to block it on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Following rulings in a federal court in Florida and then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case: National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

The Court ruled in favor of Obamacare's "individual mandate" insurance requirement, with Roberts being the deciding vote, qualifying their decision by saying that states could not be essentially forced to expand Medicaid coverage under the law.

Another surprising major win was the verdict denying the move to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The verdict announced: “By demanding the citizenship status of each resident, the Trump administration is breaking with decades of policy and potentially causing a major undercount that would threaten billions in federal funds and New York’s fair representation in Congress and the electoral college.”

The Court can be fair, despite the number of conservatives to progressives. Yet, Trump is the nations top political figure, voicing the views of many. Leveling harsh criticisms against Trump will only go so far. The 40% of the country that is his base will support him no matter what, and changing public opinion, mostly among undecided's, or those in the middle, has to be the focus.

Progressives should focus on advancing their own clear Agenda for America to influence public opinion. Much work can be done, as in the case of the groundwork leading up to Roe v Wade, before the issue even got to the High Court. And for the next several years as the White House continues to chip away at hard at won social gains---whether they be reproductive rights, marriage equality, or citizenship questions, there is much work to be done; writing Op-Eds, blogs, grassroots organizing, television specials, and lobbying.

Girls Inc. of NYC and Women in Public Office

Girls Inc. of New York City hosts programs and activities concerning women in politics, savvy voting, and running for office. Activities cover the vital importance of exercising YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE, constructing arguments to support positions, understanding the vital influence of the media and deconstructing campaign commercials, registering to vote, and raising money. Girls are provided with sample press releases, sample speaker invitation letters, and legal considerations for nonprofits.

A look at the makeup of the 112th U.S. Congress provides a snapshot of women’s political underrepresentation. In Congress in 2012, women held just 90 of the 535 seats or 16.8%. Twenty states had no women in their Congressional delegations, and no women of color served in the Senate. In 2018, just 25% of state legislators are women. 20% of the Congress are women.

Twenty-three women (17D, 6R) serve in the United States Senate in the 115th Congress. Of these 23, four are women of color.

In contrast to these small percentages, women have dominated the electorate for years.

Since 1980, the proportion of eligible women who vote in presidential elections has surpassed that of eligible men, while the number of female voters has exceeded male voters since 1984. However, women are less likely to contribute to political campaigns, to contact their elected of officials, and to be interested in public affairs at all. Women engage in less political involvement across a host of political activities and attitudes—from joining political parties to attending demonstrations to political interest to discussion and effective involvement.

Girls Inc.'s programs are a start, but there is much work to be done. Changing public opinion can not only win back the House and ultimately the Senate, "taking back the Congress" has often preceded the next presidential reversal. The Democrats’ capture of the House in 1930 anticipated Roosevelt’s 1932 landslide. Likewise the huge Democratic gains in 1958, which brought to Congress a generation of great progressive legislators and laid the groundwork for the New Frontier and Great Society legislation. The same thing happened in 2006 when Democrats took back the House and helped prepare the soil for Obama’s victory in 2008. These congressional wins are not just harbingers; what Democrats do with their leadership of one or both Houses helps make the next presidential win happen.

But the key is still public opinion, and having the discipline and strategic coherence to offer a core platform that appeals to the majority of Americans.


To help us shape a broader strategy to achieve equality, join us at our upcoming event:

Tipping the Scales: the Rights of Women and Girls in a #MeToo World

December 4, 2018

Midtown, Manhattan

Click the link to RSVP and support:


bottom of page