Shortcuts / 04 November 2022

The 2022 US Midterm Elections

Next week in the US, Americans will vote to elect a whole bunch of new members to the US Congress – their version of our federal parliament. So in this week’s Squiz Shortcut, we break down what the midterms are; why you’ll be hearing about them and Donald Trump; and the big issues for voters in America right now.

Confession time – I don’t get what the midterms are about…
That’s it – we can’t be friends anymore.

Oh, ok… 
Just jokes – we hear you, and you’re not alone. We’ve got you covered, and in no time you’ll be riffing about the midterms like no one’s business.

Can we start with the REAL basics?
Like why they’re called the midterms? That’s because they happen halfway through a president’s 4-year term. Joe Biden was elected 2 years ago in November 2020 – and now halfway through his term, Congress has its next round of Senate and House of Representatives elections.

So this is not about the president?
Well, not directly. To be clear, the presidential race is its own separate ballot held every 4 years. The midterms are about everyone’s local member who sits in the House of Representatives and about a 3rd of the Senate spots are also up for election.

So how many seats are involved?
It’s all 435 House of Reps members, and this time 35 Senate spots are also up for grabs.

What’s the buffer this time?
The Republicans only need a net win of 5 seats in the House and one in the Senate.

Ooh that’s tight…
It sure is…

So just tell me why the Congress matters… 
The US Congress makes laws – so it’s pretty important for a president that his side has a majority in Congress so they can get their agenda through. At the moment the Democrats – that’s Joe Biden’s party – control both the House and the Senate by slim margins.

Which is good for them right?
Exactly. And it’s made it possible for Biden to get his agenda passed – like major legislation to tackle climate change and health care.

And If Biden loses those majorities?
Well, his plans won’t be easily passed by Congress, and he could spend a lot of time arguing and compromising with Republicans – or his plans just might be blocked altogether.

And why does that matter?
We’ll give you an example… When Donald Trump was president, he lost control of the Senate in the midterms back in 2018. His side – the Republicans – passed his Budget in the House but then the Democrats who controlled the Senate blocked it. They didn’t want to give him money to build the wall along the Mexican border. 

So what happened?
There was a federal government shutdown. Almost a million public servants didn’t get paid. National Parks were closed, the White House didn’t get cleaned – and air traffic controllers were forced to work without pay so planes wouldn’t crash…

Geez… How did it end?
It took 35 days for that impasse to be resolved.

So it’s a big deal for Joe Biden… 
It is. And also keep in mind that most midterms are a bit of a referendum on the president – and the truth is if the Democrats got trounced in these elections, it would be quite difficult for Biden to recover from that. Having said that, many presidents before him have overseen poor results from their party at the midterms.

And isn’t Biden already under a lot of pressure anyway?
That’s true. He’s turning 80yo in a few weeks – so even putting the midterm result aside, quite a few in his own party don’t want him to stand again in 2024.

So his age has become an issue?
It always has been, but lately, he’s had a few physical stumbles and gaffes. When he fell off his bike, the video went viral. And he had a real shocker a few weeks ago when he was at a conference and called out to a member of a Congress who’d actually passed away.

Oh dear… 
He also mispronounced UK PM Rishi Sunak’s name recently, and he’s called Vice President Kamala Harris a “great President” a couple of times. 

Why does all that matter?
Glad you asked… all of this is actually bringing us closer to why Australia and the world might care about these midterms – Donald Trump thinks he can beat Joe Biden in 2024. And the former prez has signalled his interest in running again in 2024.

Yep. And the experts say a good showing for the Republicans at the midterms – especially the candidates who Trump has personally backed – could really encourage him to formally declare he’s back in the race.

Trump is campaigning in these midterms?
Yep, he’s still HUGELY active in US politics – he’s endorsed more than 200 candidates ahead of the midterms – and that’s why people are seeing this as a crucial moment for him. 

This is a lot to process…
And look, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but it’s just so we can understand why these midterms are triggering so much discussion. And Trump’s personal involvement means it feels a bit like a Biden-Trump rerun from 2020.

There’s a lot going on in America right now…
Sure is – and that’s before we get to increasing energy and food prices…

So cost of living concerns are a thing there too?
It sure is. Inflation is over 8.2% in the US compared to 7.3% here. It’s worth noting a couple of recent polls in America have said inflation or the economy is the top issue for 50% of voters. 

I thought the US was heading towards a recession? 
There has been a lot of talk about that, but just this week their Treasury boss Janet Yellen said she thinks they’ll dodge it.

And are abortion rights still an issue?
Look, they are. Just to jog your memory, the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade decision back in June meaning individual states have the right to ban access to abortion services. So the Democrats have been campaigning really strongly on enacting a federal law that would protect women’s rights again.

Is their campaign working?
It’s energised some of Biden’s supporters, but it’s pretty clear it’s not the central issue it seemed to be just a few months ago. 

Are any other issues in the mix?
Immigration. Unauthorised migrants who come into the US across the border from Mexico are a huge deal in those southern states in America. Recently, the Republican Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis flew a plane load of immigrants who’d come across the border from Mexico up north to ‘liberal’ states. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott bused a few groups to Washington DC and parked them outside the Vice President’s house… 

They were stunts but also very effective in putting the issue front and centre.  

So enough dilly-dallying… Who’s going to win these midterms?
Dunno. Stay tuned – and the Squiz Today will have you covered as the results roll in. 

Squiz recommends:

Tracking the states where abortion is now bannedThe New York Times

Why Kari Lake Is the Next Republican Star – Politico

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