Published 10th November 2022

Alex Tureman: US voters said nup to Trump

US voters said nup to Trump

Australian Financial Review | November 10, 2022

There was no red wave because enough Americans still preferred boring Democrats over disruptive MAGA Republicans.

Over the past month, many of us in the Democratic Party were concerned that this week’s result would be far worse for Democrats. That uneasiness was for good reason.

Traditionally, in midterm elections the president’s party gets shellacked. Only once this century did a president’s party evade significant losses in the House of Representatives during a midterm election. That was in 2002, under George W. Bush, and was largely attributable to 9/11 and a rally-around-the-flag effect.

Otherwise, House losses in modern times have equated to the opposition party flipping, on average, 27 of the president’s party’s House seats.

While Republicans are still poised to win a majority in the House, the margin looks to be much less significant than previously expected. Just a few weeks ago, the likely next speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, predicted that the GOP could pick up upwards of 63 seats in the House. They’re ultimately going to have a 10- to 15-seat majority, which can make life difficult for the speaker as he tries to corral his caucus.

Throughout the northern summer and autumn, the media portrayed this election as being a standard referendum midterm, meaning the result would reflect how the broader electorate felt about President Joe Biden’s performance in office.

Referendum elections, especially in an environment where voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country or concerned about the pocketbook issues, usually spell trouble for the incumbent and their party. The dynamics that would cause analysts to project a “wave” or an overwhelming election against the incumbent party are all there. Whether it’s escalating crime or inflation and increasing interest rates, voters have a great deal to worry about in their day-to-day lives.

Voters seem to have moderated their ballots, picking candidates viewed as less volatile on issues such as abortion and democracy itself.

However, and contradictory to all these indicators, this week’s results suggest this was not a referendum election by any stretch of the imagination.

This was a choice election. This was an election between two different paths, two different parties and, most importantly, two different political figures.

The most striking dilemma for American voters was that if they decided to sweep the Democrats out of office, they would be handing the reins back to Trump’s MAGA Republicans.

While votes are still being counted in a handful of states and districts, voters seem to have moderated their ballots, picking candidates from Biden’s Democratic Party who were viewed as less volatile on issues such as abortion and democracy itself.

While an increasing cost of living, a shaky economy, spiking crime and regular interest rate hikes turn off voters across every level of society, the results show that voters still preferred Democrats over MAGA Republicans, even with the significant structural headwinds Democrats faced.

As I wrote in The Australian Financial Review more than two years ago, Americans just want to make politics boring again. That proved true once more as voters opted for the less disruptive party in many of the races.

‘Searing indictment’ of the GOP

The Washington Post’s columnist Marc Thiessen summed it up well when he said on Fox News: “There is a broader issue, and think about this: we have the worst inflation in four decades, the worst collapse in real wages in 40 years, the worst crime wave since the 1990s, the worst border crisis in US history, we have Joe Biden, who is the least popular president since Harry Truman, since presidential polling happened, and there wasn’t a red wave.

“That is a searing indictment of the Republican Party … They [the voters] looked at all of that, and looked at the Republican alternative, and said ‘no thanks’.”

The bottom line is that while nearly every pundit, early projection and poll said that crime and petrol and grocery prices would be the determining factors in what would be a “wave” election, the outcome suggests that the American people focused on the choice between Trump and the Dobbs decision (overturning Roe v Wade), and democracy.

As Biden often says, “Don’t compare me against the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” It looks like Americans compared him with the alternative.

Published in the Australian Financial Review.

More insights like this.

Published 17th November 2022

Power, Politics, and the Spectre of War | Q+A

Power, Politics, and the Spectre of War | Q+A Australian Broadcasting Corporation | November 17, 2022 This week on Q+A,…

Published 6th December 2022

Australia attends AUSMIN in a ‘different position’ to previous years

Australia attends AUSMIN in a ‘different position’ to previous years: Gus McLachlan Sky News Australia | December 6, 2022 Former…