The ins and outs of the upcoming US elections
On November 6 the citizens of the US will elect their next Congress, comprising 435 members of the House of Representatives, and 35 members of the Senate. This election is halfway between the presidential elections and hence has become known as the mid-term election.
With Trump generating continuous conflict through his aggressive public relations methods, this mid-term election has a great deal of interest. Republicans believe that if the Democrats win, there will be little hope of passing legislation that the Republicans want.
Furthermore, there will be intensive investigations of Trump’s activities, particularly his financial affairs and alleged conflicts of interest. The Democrats are desperate to stop Trump’s policies and Trump’s aggressive attacks on the Democrats have made operative behaviour impossible. Legislative bodies without cooperative behaviour lose their critical role as a forum for policy debate.
There are two important factors driving this election: First, the increasing role that American women are playing in politics. Indeed, the first two years of the Trump administration has seen the relationship between men and women reach an explosive level with issues that have been developing over the years.
Elected to the presidency is a man widely perceived as a serial abuser of women. Several women had come forward with accusations that he had mistreated them; all denied by Trump. Unfortunately for Trump, he is perceived as a liar who continually makes statements that are not true.
The famous tape where he describes how he can abuse women has been heard by many people all. American women are angry and the majority are out to punish Trump and the Republican party. This is a mid-term election so the focus on the president is blurred, but in 2020 Trump will face the wrath of the American women who are determined to humiliate him.
During the past two years, the #metoo movement has emerged, with women coming forth with stories of how they have been abused. The truth is that men use their power to sexually exploit women; this “secret” is now out of the closet as more and more women realize that they are not alone as victims. It is not just American men but a universal phenomenon. This changed realization is the most important aspect of this election.
The second big factor is the strong performance of the American economy. Everyone is working now and wages are starting to increase. More important for the election, polling results show that people believe wages are going to go up. The Democrats say that Trump has had little to do with this, but Republicans say that Trump’s policies have rescued the economy.
The strong economy, whatever its origins, is a big plus for the Republicans.
What will happen? Will there be a massive increase in Democrat voters? Will Trump supporters come out in such numbers to keep control of Congress in the hands of the Republicans? In the Senate, there are 35 seats up for election. One respected analysis is that of these, the outcome for 29 is more or less set. This leads, including the seats not up for election, to 44 for the Democrats and 50 for the Republicans. The remaining seats are “toss-ups” -- the polling results are too close to decide. The most likely outcome then is the Senate to come down 53 Republican and 47 Democrat. This is a comfortable situation for the Republicans but not a really successful one. For most matters, it takes 60 votes to pass legislation in the Senate.
In the House of Representatives, with 435 seats, the consensus is 206 Democrat, 199 Republican, with 30 toss-ups. Of these 30, some 29 are currently held by Republicans and only one by a Democrat. This demonstrates how much the Republicans are under attack in the House.
My calculation is that 19 of these 30 will go to the Democrats. This would give the Democrats a 225-210 advantage.
The Democrats dream for a real shift of power in the 2018 mid-term election is lost. They will be happy to win control of the House.
What is the outlook for the next two years? Given the complete impossibility of the two parties working together, we should expect little progress in passing important legislation.
However, both parties must tread carefully. A strategy of blocking everything the other wants to do will not achieve much. Rather, what will happen is that each party will attempt to preserve the most important programs it wants through assurance of funding. This will enable them to come to a basic agreement on how to spend money, as they have done the past two years. This will result in a continuing, growing government deficit that, ironically, will keep the economy growing strongly up to the 2020 election and help Trump’s re-election.
The challenge that the Democrats face is to tackle the underlying problems of the American society. These problems require a disciplined approach that may be unpopular and will not go through the Congress without a willingness to cooperate: The provision of medical care at an acceptable cost requires pushing back against the excessive costs of health care, reducing drug costs, and dealing with the haunting problems of drug abuse and chemical poisoning.
There are other issues: Correcting the unequal income and wealth distributions of American society which are inconsistent with a functioning democratic society; the reform of a weak education system linking it to the need for a labour force to handle the changing emergent technologies; upgrading the deteriorating infrastructure and the need to find an acceptable financing system to support these needed investments; reversing the increasingly quasi-monopolistic economy and increasing competition. These difficult issues are making no progress.
The two years of the Trump presidency to date provided only one significant piece of legislation, the tax reforms that were about as poorly timed and designed pieces of legislation as one could imagine. With the anticipated results of the mid-term election outlined here, there is no expectation of a better legislative record over the next two years.
Forrest Cookson is an American economist.