«It’s the economy, stupid!». Bill Clinton’s ubiquitous campaign slogan in the 1992 presidential election was instrumental in booting the incumbent, George H.W. Bush, after just one term.
The economy is once again at the heart of U.S. mid-term elections – which doesn’t bode well for the incumbent Democrats. President Joe Biden’s term isn’t up until 2024, but Americans are due to decide which party will hold a congressional majority until then. Democrats are fighting to maintain their wafer-thin Senate and House majority, as voters seethe over record inflation and an increasingly unpopular president.
The race for congressional control is nothing new, but of particular importance in 2022, as deep fissures emerge in the U.S. over the 2020 presidential election. As they take place midway through the presidential term, mid-term elections often mark a settling of scores with the White House.
While the ruling party usually suffers painful setbacks at mid-terms, Democrats were buoyed early in the summer by the debate over abortion. More recently, the issue is crowded out by economic worries for American voters.
Their immediate concern is a surge in prices: more than 73 percent of Americans are very worried about more expensive groceries and consumer goods, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Nearly as many – 69 percent – are worried about gas and energy prices as well as housing (60 percent). An overwhelming majority of respondents – 79 percent – listed the economy as very important to their November 8 mid-term vote.
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This translates to bleak prospects for the Democrats: inflation is set to remain elevated despite the U.S. Federal Reserve’s aggressive course of six rate hikes thus far this year. Consumer prices in the U.S. rose by 8.2 percent in September, hovering near this year’s high of 9.1 percent in June. The cost of living in the U.S. continues to rise rapidly.
The government can do little to fight this, but voters view the Democrats as responsible for the painful development and may say so at the ballot box. Liberal politicians don’t even seem to be benefiting from an easing of gas prices, down from their June high of USD 5 per gallon to roughly USD 3.88 currently. Most Americans correlate what they pay at the pump with the President’s popularity rating.
40 percent of American voters view Joe Biden favorably.
This effect has failed Joe Biden: just 40 percent of American voters view him favorably – and even that metric is slipping, according to the most recent Gallup poll.
Biden’s predecessors also faced tumbling approval ratings midway through their term: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton all plumbed similar depths during the same point in their respective tenure. In 2022 however, the presidential unpopularity puts the Democrats’ slim congressional majority in peril.
The Democrats’ hold in the House of Representatives is a tenuous 221 seats, compared to the 212 held by Republicans. The Senate, where Democrats hold 50 of 100 seats, is even more fragile. There, they only hold a majority due to Vice President Kamala Harris, whose vote decides in a tie. On November 8, all 435 House seats and one-third of those in the Senate are up for grabs.
Republicans look poised to wrest back the House majority by successfully defending their 212 seats and winning two vacant ones, according to polls published in CNN and Politico. This puts them within striking distance of a majority (218 seats). By contrast, just 205 Democrats are clear favorites in their election districts, where 18 seats are hotly contested.
That makes the Senate a wide-open race which is now going down to the wire. Races in Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania are polling extremely closely, and the outcome in these three states is likely to dictate control of the Senate, according to researchers at FiveThirtyEight. Both parties’ chances of taking their state remain intact.
In the last frantic spurt to November 8, every vote counts for both parties – and deeply unpopular Joe Biden may tip the scales. This is because in as fractious a political landscape as the U.S. currently, undecided voters play an oversized role. Voters who aren’t happy with the President’s performance typically vote Republican, U.S. news outlet Politico found.
The mid-terms haven’t yet hit financial markets, which are still chewing on how central banks are responding to inflation (by tightening the reins on monetary policy). Given the knife-edge situation over controlling Congress, voters may not know the results on election night.
One outcome already seems certain: Biden will have a far tougher time governing in the second half of his term, as he will face either a split or fully Republican Congress. Whatever the result, the mid-term elections are a warm-up for the main event – campaigning for 2024’s Presidential election, which raises the key question of whether Donald Trump will mount a comeback, after being voted out following just one term in office.
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