The United States after the Midterm Elections

Analysen er skrevet av AreaS-medlem Robert Lewis Mikkelsen og er publisert for Cappelen Damm i serien “Access to English, social Studies“. Dette temaet ble også tatt opp under AreaS-seminaret som fant sted 13. november 2018 med Robert og AreaS-medlem Johanna Mary Wagner.

Fotoillustrasjon: Colourbox.com

As the dust settles around the midterm election in the United States, it is clear that the predictions of the pollsters and pundits were by and large correct. The Democrats won a significant victory, securing a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010. They also picked up seven state governors, raising their total from 16 to 23 nationwide. On the other hand, the Republicans kept – and even increased – their majority in the Senate from 51 to at least 52 Senators.

This was not the “blue wave” the Democrats had been hoping for a few months ago, but it marked a significant change in the balance of power in Washington and the country as a whole, with both short and long-term consequences. Short term, the stage was set for what will probably be bitter fights for the next two years between the Democratic House on the one side and the Republican Senate and President Trump on the other. Long term it could signal a shift in political power from the Republicans to the Democrats at the start of the next decade.

What happened?

The most noteworthy aspect of these midterms was the unusually high turnout of eligible voters, estimated at 47% – up from 37% in 2014 and the highest for midterm elections in almost fifty years. The reason for this high turnout can be summed up in one word: Trump. Donald Trump’s aggressive and divisive presidency turned this ordinarily rather low-key midterm election into a referendum on his first two years in power. About 60% of the voters going to polls said they were motivated to vote because they were either for or against him. This high turnout favored the Democrats, who are more numerous than the Republicans and who had a lead of about 7%-8% in public opinion on election day. According to exit polls, not only did Democrats show up in greater numbers, but a higher percentage of groups which particularly support the Democratic Party voted when compared with past midterm elections. That included young people, blacks, Latino and Asian voters, the college educated and – particularly – women. Fully 59% of women voted Democratic, including 73% of Latino women and 92% of black women. In sum, the Democrats had successfully mobilized and expanded the electorate supporting them.

On the other hand, Donald Trump and the Republicans kept a tight grip on the political base that had given them victory in 2016. That included majorities of male voters, white voters, older voters, wealthy voters, rural voters and voters without higher education. The most pronounced support group was white males lacking college education, favoring the Republicans by fully 66%.

Moreover, President Trump was considered to be quite successful in whipping up this political base when campaigning for Senate candidates in “Red States” to help the Republicans keep their majority in that chamber. He did this by often aggressively appealing to divisive stereotypes that could motivate his supporters through fear. A good example of this is his references to a “caravan” of refugees heading for the American border through Mexico. Though poor, few in number and over 1500 miles (2500 kilometer) away at the time of the election, these people were repeatedly characterized as a threat to America’s national security, health and well-being. Trump made a great show of placing troops out on the Mexican border to stop them. The success of these fiery tactics seemed once again to catch the Democrats by surprise. President Trump’s “coattails” were longer than expected.

At the end of the day, both sides declared victory. The Democrats, because they had won the House and picked up state governors. The Republicans, because they had increased their majority in the Senate and had demonstrated that Trump retained firm support from the political base that had become vital to the party. Of the two, the Democrats had better reason to be satisfied, having expanded their electoral base and taken a powerful position in the federal government from the Republicans.

But reason (and facts) have become less important during the Trump administration. Therefore, many Republicans nonetheless agreed with Trump when he tweeted on November 7: “Yesterday was such a very Big Win, and all under the pressure of a Nasty and Hostile Media!”

The consequences

After declaring victory, both sides immediately expressed a willingness to work with one another “across the aisle” (the open space that divides the seating of the two parties in the House and Senate) in order to bring the country together. Given the otherwise hostile tone between the parties, that seems highly unlikely. There is little doubt that the Democrats will use their new majority in the House to block Republican conservative legislation whether it comes from the Senate or President Trump. They can do this because all legislation must pass both chambers of Congress to become law – and that includes legislation funding the Federal budget. They could actually bring the Federal government to a halt by denying it money, just as the Republicans did during the Obama administration.

In addition, the Democrats will now be able to use the full powers of the House to investigate the Trump administration, including such things as Trump’s alleged connections with Russia during the last election, as well as his tax returns. That means they can demand documents, set up committees, have hearings, etc.

On the other side of the aisle, President Trump can issue “Executive Orders” to get around some, if not all, Democratic legislative roadblocks. And he certainly has shown no signs of moderating his combative style of politics. In the same speech in which he declared his willingness to cooperate with the Democrats, he also warned them to not start investigations into his administration or risk his retaliation, later tweeting;

The following day he rocked Washington by firing his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, head of the Justice Department. This was widely interpreted as a move to clear the way to either end or limit Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Muller’s ongoing investigation intoTrump’s connections with Russia in the last election. If so, it would be a sign that Trump is getting ready to fight off investigations by making use of his presidential powers. That could potentially set off a federal constitutional crisis, pitting the legislative branch against the executive branch and possibly lead to impeachment proceedings against Trump. Some Democrats in the House would welcome that, but most – led by the Democratic Majority Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – oppose impeaching Trump … “yet”.

In sum, this election seems to have left America and the Federal government more divided than ever, with the prospect of knock-down, drag-out political battles being fought in Washington and across the nation for the next two years as the presidential election of 2020 approaches. The fact that the Democrats have come out of the midterms politically strengthened has increased their chance to win back the presidency if they can find a candidate who can bring together the same broad coalition of supporters that gave them victory in the House. The Republicans, on the other hand, can point to their gains in the Senate and hope that these are a sign that the political base and inflammatory tactics that brought Donald Trump to power can again be tapped in 2020 when he runs for re-election. The only thing that is certain is that there are going to be stormy times in Washington for the next two years.

Of state governors and salamanders

Meantime, life goes on at the state level. As mentioned earlier, the Democrats picked up seven state governors in this midterm election. This will be important over the coming years for two reasons, one simple and the other complicated. The simple reason is that, like in the House, they illustrate that the Democrats have the political “momentum”; that is, their support has increased across the nation. That is a good sign for them looking ahead to 2020. The more complicated reason is that in 2020 a new national census will be released, showing how the population of the United States is distributed. The number of seats in the House of Representatives is held to 435, so if some states in America have grown more than others, some of those seats will have to be moved from one state to another. And that means that the borders of state Congressional voting districts – the geographical area each seat represents – must be remade to allow for more (or fewer) members of Congress from each state. Each individual state, led by its governor, has the power and responsibility to remake its own district boundaries to fit its number of Representatives.

This is known as “redistricting” and has become something of a political art in America. With care, the party which controls the state government can create congressional districts that geographically favor that party. The ultimate example of this was a district created in 1812 by Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. It was so odd and twisted it resembled a salamander to the mind of a cartoonist of the day, who called it a “Gerrymander”, giving this process the name “Gerrymandering” ever since.

In 2010, when the last census was released, the Republicans held a solid majority of state governors and used that power to gerrymander districts in their favor so efficiently that they have been over-representedin the House of Representatives ever since. If the Democrats can gain a majority of state governors in 2020, they may be able to reverse this process. In any case, picking up seven new governors in this midterm election is a great improvement over the 16 they started out with. They can now hope to make the playing field more level after 2020. That could change the political balance between the two parties for the following decade.

Av Franck Orban
Publisert 14. nov. 2018 11:00 - Sist endret 15. nov. 2018 11:27