The US midterms: What can we expect?
As featured in Edition 41, available here.
By WILL ALLEN (3rd year - Philosophy, Politics and Law - Oxford, United Kingdom)
The 2022 midterms will rewrite the balance of power on Capitol Hill for the next two years. This cycle will also determine far more than just control of Congress: across the country, elections have the potential to obliterate abortion; tear down democracy; and launch presidential bids.
With President Joe Biden’s approval rating floundering in the 30s, and three-quarters of voters saying the country is heading in the wrong direction, the Democratic party appears on course for a car crash in November. Prominent Democrats have been acknowledging this, quietly putting clear water between their campaigns and the deadweight White House chains to their candidacies.
Yet for all the persistent factors that spell doom, the race to control Congress remains much closer than many may have expected. One New York Times poll found a majority of all registered voters want Democrats in control after November; yet another found a majority of likely voters wanted the Republicans. FiveThirtyEight, a polling company, thinks the Senate is edging towards the Democrats, whilst Politico instead thinks the Republicans will clinch it. Just what the country wants remains a mystery, even when considering that midterms persistently punish a president’s party.
The Senate is a prime example of the confusion ensuing this cycle. The upper chamber is ripe to fall to the Republicans, but the Democrats appear to be consolidating a favourable shift toward them. This strange phenomenon comes down to multiple factors that cut both ways for the parties. Republicans have plenty going their way. The current 50-50 majority in the upper chamber makes recapture a walk in the park; especially so considering the party have multiple pick-up opportunities where vulnerable Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election. What muddies the picture is the very party itself. In their undying loyalty to Trump, Republicans have selected abysmal candidates – candidates that propel Democratic candidates in critical races, thus nulling their pick-up opportunities. With polling on a knife edge, who controls the Senate should remain a nailbiter until election night or, in déjà vu, a January run-off in the peach state.
While the Senate remains in flux, pollsters expect Republicans to sweep the House of Representatives. Almost all factors swing hard in the party’s favour, such as the brutal 2021 redistricting that effectively shredded the current Democratic majority of four before a single vote had even been cast. As a result, Democratic candidates can expect a shellacking that will shrink their ranks and finally complete the burial of their party’s once bold agenda.
Also on the ballot this year are a record number of abortion measures. These measures are sure to turn out voters everywhere; the petition alone which sought a referendum in Michigan garnered 730,000 signatures (well over the 425,000 required). Already, a Kansas measure that hoped to curtail abortion was defeated in dramatic fashion with a high turnout. These initiatives vary greatly by state, though. In Democratic states like Vermont, ballot measures are set to shore up reproductive freedoms. Meanwhile, in states such as Kentucky, similar referenda are likely to obliterate abortion, punishing those who perform the medical procedure with $50,000 fines and extensive two-decade prison sentences.
This cycle is also consequential for the future of American democracy. It sounds like hyperbole to say these midterms could bring democracy into its endgame, but a glance at the slate of Republican candidates on offer exposes this reality. The current primary season has bequeathed control of the Republican party to Trump and his election lies. Repeatedly, the party has purged those who sought to defend the 2020 election, which included the casting aside of those from revered political dynasties. Arizona is the most striking embodiment of the new party. Fronted by Kari Lake, the state party is working to tear down democracy in service of Trump’s ‘Big Lie’. Victory in November will see many of these Trump zealots assume control of positions with the power to challenge any future election that doesn’t go their way, and ultimately tear down the very democracy that elected them.
The future, then, hinges on several marquee races. The potential loss of a unified Congress will test President Biden’s dated vision of bipartisanship like never before. A colossal rematch in Georgia will test the mettle of Stacey Abrams and her future in the Democratic party. In Florida, a strong re-election for Trumpier-than-Trump Ron DeSantis may be the springboard he needs to launch a 2024 bid that can rival the former President, who of course is openly readying his own bid to escape reality. The future of Congress, abortion, and democracy itself, will all live and die by these November midterms.
Image: Geoff Livingston / Flickr