Republican sweep in US midterm elections will impact Biden's policies and presidential race, say experts
The results will impact the implementation of the Biden administration's policies, and possibly the presidential race in 2024.
SINGAPORE: Low popularity for Democratic and Republican party leaders and economic uncertainty may shift traditional voting patterns at the US midterm elections.
A Republican sweep is likely, and the results will have an impact on Biden administration’s policies, and possibly on the presidential race in 2024, experts told CNA’s Asia First on Tuesday (Nov 8).
US President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump - seen as leaders of the two major political parties - have high disapproval ratings in a political environment which is increasingly polarised, they said.
President Biden’s disapproval rating of 53 per cent shows that he is not running a very popular administration, said Professor Donald DeBats, Flinders University’s head of American Studies and visiting scholar at the University of Virginia.
He cited former presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as presidents who were popular.
“I think that's partly because he's prone to talk off the cuff and not carefully enough. And when there’s an economic crisis as there is, that doesn't work very well.” said Prof DeBats.
On the other side of the political divide, his Republican counterpart Trump has also been on the campaign trail, drumming up support for his party’s candidates.
However, the value in his brand remains in question.
“Trump's problem is he is seen and criticised by many Americans, even his supporters, as being overly divisive. He tears the country apart,” said Professor William Schneider, professor emeritus at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
The deep division is also happening in the Republican Party itself, he noted.
“Two very unpopular figures, a choice Americans don't particularly value or like. They want someone to come in, like Clinton or Obama or Reagan, who were inspirational and who can hold the country together,” said Dr Schneider.
Prof DeBats added that if the Republicans perform strongly in this electoral contest, President Biden will face an uphill task being the Democratic candidate at the 2024 presidential election.
ISSUES AT PLAY
President Biden’s rhetoric of painting all Republicans as extremists harming the country’s democracy, may be removed from the true bread and butter concerns of the American electorate, such as the cost of food and gas, said Prof DeBats.
“I think the problem with turning it into an election about extremism is that President Biden ends up stoking the very flames that he believes are endangering the Republic. So this has to be handled really very carefully,” he said.
He said that economic issues have taken centre stage in the election, as focus on issues have shifted over time.
“The economy is the number one issue for about 44 per cent of the electorate - the largest focus of any issue,” said Prof DeBats, adding that estimates of a recession happening next year have risen from 49 per cent to 63 per cent over the last few months.
He also noted that inflation has risen in the past year, with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates multiple times this year to tame the rising price pressures.
“So the economy cannot be ignored, and that is what has become the focus in the last couple of months - perhaps five months - of this election campaign,” said Prof DeBats.
Prof Schneider, who has observed elections since the 1970s, said he has never seen the American electorate as polarised as it is now.
He said it is “something genuinely new” that people are doubting and challenging the outcome of elections and allegeding that it was “stolen”.
The country has been divided before, noted Prof Schneider, such as over the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and civil rights issues since the 1960s, but never to this extent.
Prof DeBats noted that the growing base of urban working class voters is very important for the Republicans, as they were groups who formed a significant core of Democratic support for nearly half a century.
“It's a reflection of the big changes in the American economy, from an economy based on industry, piping, labour union jobs, which don't require a lot of skill, but do certainly require hard work. And those jobs are disappearing,” he said.
“Automation, AI (artificial intelligence), all these modern features of a technological economy, have changed the job market and a lot of people are left behind.”
Both analysts expect a Republican sweep this midterms.
Prof Schneider said they are likely to make “significant gains” and take over both the House and Senate, a move which would allow them to impede President Biden’s agenda.
“This is a significant election, principally because the Republican Party has been taken over by the radical right. The radical right has been around for 200 years. It's been a factor in American politics. It only came to power with Donald Trump, when he was elected in 2016,” he explained.
“They tasted power, they objected to the fact that they were thrown out of power, and they want it back.”
Prof DeBats agreed with the prediction that the Republicans would come out of this midterm elections on top, but acknowledged that President Biden may have the know-how to manage this divide, having spent decades in Congress.
He understands how people interact and work together, and could take a proactive step to take the lead and unite the Republicans and Democrats, said Prof DeBats.
“That’s what I hope, that he sees this as his big chance to create his legacy.”