US midterm elections: Democrats defy history

America’s Midterm elections, which determines control of both chambers of Congress, ended last Tuesday, November 8, 2022, and all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives were up for grabs, as well as 35 US Senate seats and 36 governorships.

Results after last week’s midterm elections show that Democrats have taken control of the 100-member Senate with 50 Senate seats while Republicans had 49 with Georgia outstanding.
Should Republicans win the Georgia seat, Vice-President Kamala Harris will be able to break ties in the 100-member chamber.

The midterms offer the American public an opportunity to give the incumbent administration a national verdict over their two years in power but historically, it has ended up being a strong rebuke to the incumbent.

Narrow House majority win

More than a week after Election Day, Republicans secured the 218th seat needed to flip the House from Democratic control, that gives them the power to halt President Joe Biden’s agenda, yet their slim margin marked a letdown for a party that had counted on decisive election results as a springboard for the 2024 presidential race.

Despite concerns about Biden’s handling of the economy and the prospects of a recession, voters delivered a split verdict over who was to blame and how much weight to put on issues such as abortion rights and election deniers’ threats to democracy. While giving control of the House to the GOP, they kept the Senate in the hands of Democrats.

Slender as it is, the House majority hands Republicans control of committees with subpoena authority, allowing them to make good on campaign pledges to investigate Biden’s administration and family, as well as social-media companies that conservatives claim are biased against them.

Slash government spending

Republicans also have promised to slash government spending, expand fossil fuel production and extend Trump-era tax cuts on the wealthy. Much of that agenda, however, will be left to wither in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

For businesses, the return of Republicans to control of the House takes the possibility of corporate tax increases favoured by Democrats off the table while diminishing the changes of workforce-boosting reforms to legal immigration. But markets may become turbulent in the middle of next year if Republicans carry through on threats to hold the nation’s debt ceiling hostage to force the president to accept spending cuts.

Sitting president’s party

Historically, the sitting president’s party nearly always loses House seats in the midterms. In the 100-member Senate, 35 seats were contested. The chamber, where senators serve six-year terms, is currently split 50-49 with one outstanding, but Vice-President Kamala Harris owns the tie-breaking vote.

Another 36 state governorships and three US territory governorships, as well as numerous city mayorships and local officials, were also voted on.

Earlier polls

Since taking office in January 2021 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden’s term has been marked by the scars of the global health crisis and soaring inflation. While Biden’s name was not on the ballot, other factors came into play, from upstart candidates to domestic issues.

Republicans had expected to be partying like it was 1994, the year they captured the majority in the US House for the first time in four decades and in the Senate for the first time in eight years.

That was also the year they ended Democratic dominance in the South for the first time in well over a century, winning most of the region’s governorships as well as of its seats in both chambers of Congress.

Republicans this fall had at least expected to have another “Tea Party” celebration like the one when they gained 63 seats in the House in the first term of President Barack Obama’s time, a dozen years ago. He called it a “shellacking.”

Two Democratic presidents
The last two Democratic presidents with approval ratings matching Biden’s in their first midterm (Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010) saw their party suffer a net loss of more than 50 House seats, at least five Senate seats and at least five governorships.

The years 1934, 1962 and 2002 were thought to be monumental achievements for the president’s party and major exceptions to rule, which suggests the party controlling the White House usually loses seats in a midterm.

The GOP has spent the past week brooding over its poor showing in the midterm elections, with some Republicans blaming former President Donald Trump for losses in key races, not only in Congress but in statehouses as well. Yet even as they chided him for promoting candidates that Democrats beat in Republican-favoured races, Trump waded right back in to announce his third run for the White House.

Perhaps the lack of success by these GOP candidates shouldn’t be a surprise given that some 60 per cent of voters both in pre-election surveys and the exit polls believe Biden was legitimately elected. Still, Democrats look to have scored an incredible achievement in the 2022 midterms, especially given how unpopular polls showed Biden was.