US midterm polls: The ‘red wave’ that wasn’t

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US midterm polls: The ‘red wave’ that wasn’t
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Democrats performed better than most analysts thought and a Republican ‘red wave’ did not materialise in the US midterm elections. This assumes significance as opposition parties have done well in the midterms in the past.

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. (Photo: Reuters)

By Ailia Zehra: In the critical midterm elections in the United States, Democrats performed better than most analysts had predicted, and a ‘red wave’ that Republicans were hoping for did not occur. Historically, the opposition party is able to gain 50-60 seats in the midterm elections, but Republicans have managed to gain only six.

Several key races are still unresolved, and control of the US Senate remains up for grabs. The Republican Party might end up winning a majority in the House of Representatives, but by an unusually narrow margin.

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On Wednesday, President Joe Biden termed the midterm polls a “good day” for democracy and took a jibe at Republicans, saying that the ‘red wave’ did not materialise.

WHAT PREVENTED THE ‘RED WAVE’

The overturning of abortion rights by the Supreme Court in June this year energised Democrats’ base and even drove independent voters to the polls. State rep. Darrin Camilleri, a Democrat who won a seat in the state senate, was quoted by Time as saying that he knocked on 130,000 doors and found that abortion was “the deciding factor in turning Michigan deep blue”.

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Washington-based political analyst Aaron David Miller says there were a number of issues that motivated Democratic voters as well as independents to the polls, including the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to ban abortion and the way the extreme elements in the Republican Party politicised the issue.

“Add to that Republican candidates of lesser quality (usually Donald Trump-endorsed) and Trump fatigue and you can see the basis of massive Republican underperformance,” he told India Today.

Republicans’ losses despite President Biden’s low approval rating and rising inflation surprised many observers. Miller says with inflation at historic levels, rising gas prices, and Biden’s plunging poll numbers, this election should have resulted in massive Republican gains. “Instead, it looks like the Republicans will hold a narrow majority in the House, and depending on a few key Senate races, a razor edge Democratic control of the Senate.”

But Sanford Gordon, a professor of politics at New York University, says the “red wave” was not something that analysts had expected.

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“The conventional wisdom that the combination of inflation, low approval ratings for the President, and the fact that the President’s party generally loses seats during the midterm election, all pointed in the direction of the Republicans gaining seats. The polling, however, pointed toward closeness of the sort that we are observing. So the better question, I think, is why we anticipated Republican gains to be relatively minor, and why, perhaps, were they even smaller than anticipated,” he told India Today.

Gordon added that Trump’s endorsement carries an enormous amount of weight in Republican primaries, and Trump threw his weight behind some weak candidates. “Dr Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania being the most prominent example. There was a view among prominent pundits that things like poor debate performance by John Fetterman would be more important than critical issues in the suburbs.”

‘AMERICAN DEMOCRACY PASSED A STRESS TEST’

Republicans’ victory would have also empowered conspiracy theorists who denied the results of the 2020 elections and supported Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, and this was a major cause for concern for Democrats. The fate of American democracy was said to be at stake this election because election deniers were on the ballot in key races. But results indicate that Republican candidates who refused to accept the 2020 elections performed particularly poorly.

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Asked if this means American democracy is no longer under threat, David Miller says the US passed a sort of stress test in this election. “With a few exceptions, the elections ran smoothly without violence, voter intimidation, and vote tampering. But as we approach the general election, we must be vigilant. There are large numbers of election deniers now in Congress and the Republicans are still seeking to change the way people vote at the local and state level and turn the counting to their advantage,” he added.

Sanford Gordon agrees that the threat to US democracy has not been completely overcome. “There are still plenty of election deniers in Republican politics, although some of the most prominent ones did lose their election bids. The real question is whether Republican elites can succeed in coordinating their opposition to Donald Trump in a way that forestalls his nomination should he pursue it. Trump still has a committed base of support among the MAGA (Make America Great Again) rank and file,” he said.

(The writer is a Pakistani journalist based out of New York)

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