US Midterm Elections

This is my first post as a contributor at Kiwiblog. The topic I will be writing about is US politics.

With the Republicans (GOP) looking certain to keep control of the House of Representatives the critical factor in the 2014 midterm elections is who will control the Senate. Currently the Democrats have 55 seats (including 2 independents who caucus with them) whilst the Republicans have 45. There are 36 seats up for grabs. Real Clear Politics are currently predicting that the GOP will gain 7 seats: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. But they are likely to lose Kansas to an independent candidate.

The table below shows some of the closest Senate contests.


The chance of the leader winning percentage in the last column is from Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog. Pollsters estimate that the GOP have a 60-70% chance or better of taking the Senate. The reasons for the Democrats looking likely to lose ground in the Senate is that in some seats long standing incumbents are retiring or the party is being dragged down by Obama’s poll numbers and the perceptions regarding his performance. Alaska, Colorado and Iowa are very close. The polls do not currently predict that the Democrats will win any seats from the Republicans.

Key Issues
The latest Fox News poll asked voters what they consider to be the key issues.

Call it the ISIS effect: equal numbers of voters now say terrorism is the most important issue to their vote as say the economy: 41 percent say each will be “extremely” important in their decision. Four years ago, 57 percent said the economy would be “extremely” important, while 41 percent said terrorism (September 2010).

Today 36 percent say government spending and 35 percent say health care will be “extremely” important to their vote for Congress, followed by immigration (32 percent), foreign policy (29 percent) and abortion (23 percent).

None of these issues are surprising. Reducing government spending has been a victim of the political gridlock.

Voter Cynicism
An interesting underlying factor is the deep cynicism amongst voters about Washington being thought of as dysfunctional. An example of this issue is best exemplified by the fact that the last time the Democrat led Senate passed a budget was in April 2009! For years both parties haven’t bent over backwards to work together with the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid being very obstructionist. The GOP leaders aren’t much better and Obama has either been unable and/or is not interested in reaching across the aisle as both Reagan and Clinton did when in the White House.

The Obama Factor
But the overriding issue of the campaign may well turn out to be Obama’s competence. Writing in the Washington Post Ed Rogers comments in the PostPartisan blog include some common criticisms of the President.

After mistakes are revealed, the White House will first deny anything is wrong, then proclaim the problem is being fixed, next say everything is fine and finally deflect any blame from the president by blaming President George W. Bush or crying about partisanship in Washington. In addition, the White House will claim that Obama didn’t know anything until he saw it in the newspaper, and then it will move on to the next crisis in short order.

The president was right to say that his policies are on the ballot; whether it was wise to do so depends on your perspective. I’m sure that his partners in governance — a.k.a. the Democrats on the ballot in November — are not happy about it, but voters have every reason to make this election a referendum on how the president and his party have performed over the past six years and whether more of the same is desirable.

These perceptions of Obama are allowing the GOP to get away with not campaigning on serious policy issues and hide their own internal divisions. An example is tax reform, they want it but cannot agree amongst themselves how to go about it.

If the Senate does fall to the Republicans it will be fascinating to observe if both the GOP and Obama are willing to work together or carry on with the current political gamesmanship.

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