Some see midterm elections as a referendum on the president's first two years; others as a way to restore some balance to Congress after one party has had its run of things for a while. And, if you're a follower of the upstart Tea Party movement, perhaps Tuesday's (November 2) elections are a chance to shake things up in Washington and give the boot to the good ol' boys in favor of some fresh blood.
Whatever your take, the final vote will have a huge impact on the legislation that passes through Congress over the next 24 months, and no matter which way you lean, pundits told MTV News voicing your opinion is key.
"What we're in store for, regardless of where you stand, is a historic election day ... the biggest shift in congressional representation in a generation," said Jordan Lieberman, 34, former editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine and current VP of Business Development for CampaignGrid, a company that does targeted online messaging for candidates and causes. "It's bigger than the 1994 election [when Republicans swept into power during the Clinton administration], and whether you're for or against, it's a strong motivator to show up."
If, as predicted, Republicans take anywhere from 45-60 seats in the House of Representatives, Lieberman said you will see a dramatically different direction in Congress, as well as a lot more compromise legislation coming out of the White House. What you won't likely see are any more massive programs like the Obama health-care plan or any major Social Security reform.
"It's important because ... the first half of the president's term is up for evaluation, so many members of Congress ... voters are evaluating them based on their votes," said Brian Morgenstern, 28, a consultant on a number of Republican campaigns in New York and former staffer for John McCain during his 2008 presidential bid. "It's sort of an indirect referendum on what Obama has done over the last two years."
As a general rule, whichever party the president is in tends to lose seats in midterm elections. It is rare for the White House and both chambers of Congress to be controlled by the same party as they are now — it has only happened 10 times since 1945 — and given early projections, President Obama is not likely to wield that control in the final two years of his first term.
"Generally, what the public sees is a new president sweeping into power, and if he has both houses of Congress, he has the ability to pass a lot of new legislation," said Morgenstern, alluding to the passage of the landmark health-care law, major new regulations of the financial industry, a bailout of the car industry and the economic stimulus bill.
"What's at stake this time is slowing down the president's agenda," Morgenstern added. "I think that's where you're seeing the Republicans go in their new movement to 'shrink' the size of government." In other words, instead of big, flashy legislation, you can expect more incremental changes and, possibly, some undoing of a few Obama policies.
The fear is that if Republicans do gain control of one or both houses of Congress, their goal will be to not work with Obama for the next two years in the hopes that he does not win re-election in 2012, explained Corey Johnson, 28, who works as the director of government affairs for a financial firm after putting in time as an Obama delegate in 2008 and on a number of campaigns for local and state government in New York.
While they didn't agree on much, both men said it's important for young voters to look closely at which party is proposing policies that will make it easier for them to get a job. Morgenstern thinks it's Republicans, because they are adamant about lowering taxes, which could help jump-start hiring.
"It's important, because the parties fundamentally disagree on a lot of issues," added Johnson. "It's important to engage in the process and to know that these issues are fundamental and that they affect everyone."
"Voting is not just for old people anymore," said Morgenstern. "Let's all get out there and tell our leaders what we think of them."