Today the United States mid-term elections are being held. The turnout in mid-terms is notoriously low with more attention placed on the larger and more publicised Presidential elections. That is not to say that mid-terms are not important. The result today will give us a clear indication of the political climate as Barrack Obama goes into his final two years in office.
Presidential elections are held every four years in the United States with mid-terms held two years into a Presidential term. Members of the House of Representatives serve two year terms while Senators serve six. Different thirds of the Senate are elected every two years so on Tuesday, all of the 435 seats in the House will be up for grabs alongside 33 of the 100 Senate seats. The Senate is therefore, the more politically stable chamber while the composition of the House falls in line more with the public mood.
It’s very unlikely that the House of Representatives, already with a Republican majority, will be won by the Democrats so the attention is almost entirely on the Senate. The Republicans need to win just six seats to gain control. Obama would then have very little authority in Congress and his Presidential veto would be his only source of security.
Comparable to the success of fringe or opposition parties in UK by-elections, the party in the White House generally loses support in the mid-terms. They are, in many ways, referenda on the incumbent President. Obama’s approval ratings have plunged to new depths in the last eighteen months so there’s nothing to suggest these elections will buck that trend. The Democrats will be preparing themselves for a hefty defeat while the Republicans are very deliberately making these elections, supposedly more about local issues, all about the President.
Very few Democratic candidates are even willing to appear with the President in public and Obama himself has admitted:
“Real median family incomes haven’t gone up since 2000, and Americans for the first time in history doubt that their children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities that they had.”
Unfortunately for Obama, there are several unwelcome parallels with Bill Clinton’s final years in office. After losing both houses of Congress in the 1998 mid-terms, Clinton only narrowly survived impeachment later that year. Admittedly this was due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and was therefore exceptionally unusual but it does show just how powerful an opposition-controlled Congress can be. With economic anxiety fuelling a popular perception of failure, a Republican controlled Congress would likely enjoy public support if they were to rebel against the Presidential agenda.
If the Republicans do take control of the Senate, it will give them control of both houses of Congress for the first time since George W Bush’s presidency. Barrack Obama has two more years in office before the 2016 Presidential election. Tuesday’s result could make life in the next two years very difficult for Obama’s White House and also hand the Republicans the initiative in the ever-nearer Presidential race.