Progress, or chaos? It all comes down to the midterms
By JACOB ARNOLD
The 2022 midterm elections are fast approaching and the outlook could not be more chaotic. With days to go, the balance of power in the Senate is on a knife edge, whilst projections for the House of Representatives seem to dramatically favour Republicans. But the real chaos comes from what this means for American politics, the average American, and indeed the world.
Republicans have fielded weak candidates to contest Senate seats. From Dr Oz to Herschel Walker, these Donald Trump-endorsed candidates have been embroiled in scandal. Given this, you would expect the Democrats to hold the Senate, potentially even increasing their razor thin majority. However, FiveThirtyEight, a major polling company, gives the Grand Old Party a 55% chance of taking the Senate. The picture is replicated for other polling firms too.
The future balance of the Senate is unclear. Whilst Republicans are favoured to win, Democrats traditionally perform better than their rivals on the state and national level. Ultimately, which party controls the Senate will be decided by the closest races, likely here to be Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada. Democrats have the advantage, only needing 50 seats to maintain control since Kamala Harris can cast a tie breaking vote. Yet a net loss of just one will swing the balance in favour of the Republicans, and change the direction of America to one of a backwards looking country. It is unlikely Democrats will make major gains here - just maintaining their current number of 50 seats would be a win. Realistically, Democrats can only hope to gain Pennsylvania; and this will be essential should they lose one of the very close defensive races in Georgia or Nevada.
It’s widely expected that Republicans will regain control of the House, having lost it in 2018 during the last midterms. FiveThirtyEight gives the GOP an 84% chance of victory.
Losses for Democrats, whether in the House or in the Senate, will most likely stem from the major economic challenges that have occurred since they took over all three branches of government. A recent CNN poll saw 51% of voters saying the economy was their number one priority at the elections. As a result, many voters may turn away from the Democrats in this cycle, blaming them for inflationary pressures, despite the recent passing of the Inflation Reduction Act. Other factors, such as the disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan and resentment towards COVID controls, will play in some voters’ minds, and could thus also be blamed for any losses the Democrats incur.
Midterm elections are renowned for being a challenge for the governing party. Last time out, the Republicans lost a net of 40 seats to the Democrats in a rebuff of Trump. Barack Obama lost the House to a Republican landslide in 2010, yet still went on to win re-election two years later. Therefore, even large losses for Democrats would not be unprecedented (it has happened before) and would not inevitably mean the party is doomed for 2024. It could just provide a reality check; helping show Joe Biden where his priorities should lie for the second half of his term.
This being said, losing the House is far from ideal for Democrats. Such a scenario would be a major setback to President Biden and his agenda; and, if it happened, the remainder of the President's term will be largely already written. It will be tough. The question we should be asking now is what scale the Republican gains will be. Will it be a red wave, or will it just be a modest majority in the house? Either way, losing their majority will make it difficult for Democrats to implement policies, massively reducing their ability to have a genuine impact on people’s lives. Passing huge infrastructure packages, as seen last year, would not be possible in a Congress where Democrats fail to command a majority in both chambers. Democrats will then not be set up well for 2024, as failing to pass legislation won’t be popular with voters. Therefore, if Democrats lose the house, Biden will have to double down on consensus building in Congress to avoid deadlock and stagnation.
Further, this election cycle greatly favours the governing party given there are no elections for 36 of their 50 senators. Therefore, questions over their chances in 2024 could arise should the Republicans win. It would also further quash Democratic policy ambitions.
The real issue is that the Democrats are facing a very different kind of Republican party to the one they did under Obama. It is one radically shaped by Trump and his Make America Great Again agenda. This has heightened the stakes because each Republican victory means less support for Ukraine, reduced access to abortion services, the spread of false information, and less focus on fighting climate change.
The radical Republican Party should make an easy rival for Democrats. Despite this, they look set to take the House. The key test for Democrats, though, is by how much. Numerous losses, especially in battleground states, would be a bad sign and will lead to greater compromise from Biden, which matters as they will no doubt hurt society. Should the GOP take the senate, this would represent a major failure for the Democratic campaign machine and provide Trump with the boost he needs to run again, given many of the senate candidates are backed by him. These elections matter; and Tuesday will be a nailbiter.
Image: Flickr / The Democratic Party