Historically it has been seen that a President’s party rarely does well in the midterm elections, particularly in the President’s second term. Therefore, the result of the midterm elections held on November 4, 2014 were hardly surprising. President Obama will now be facing a Republican Senate and House, making his uphill battles passing bills through Congress even more challenging, as if they were not already sufficiently difficult, to say the least.
Democrats will be able to block Republican initiatives in the Senate with forty votes and if necessary, President Obama can exercise a veto. This executive power allows him to prevent the Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and Consumer Protection Act. However, the President and the Democrats will not be able to pass any initiatives of their own, unfortunately. Furthermore, President Obama will face an extremely difficult time getting his appointments and nominations for higher offices confirmed. Basically, “gridlock” is the best term to describe what Americans will be facing in the next two years until the next Presidential elections.
Despite President Obama’s numerous achievements with regards to domestic and foreign policies, what may have been a major cause for the defeat of the Democrats is that the country has not completely recovered from the Great Recession and although unemployment is down, wages have not increased.
Some of the key factors as to why the Democrats lost both the upper and lower Houses in the November midterm elections may be examined as follows.
Traditionally, voter turnout for midterm elections is much lower than for Presidential elections. Not to mention, the sheer apathy of certain voters who may have voted for the Democrats may have attributed to their defeat.
However, there is not only the voter apathy factor at play here. Another very key and unfair factor which hurt the Democrats are Voter ID Laws. Thousands of voters, mostly minorities, who traditionally vote for Democrats were turned away from the polls due to “lack of proof of citizenship”.
Quite astounding that in a country such as the United States, no one has yet come up with the idea of issuing voter ID cards, cards meant only for the purpose of voting, issued at the age of 18, to eligible US citizens. The fact that thousands of voters, mostly minorities, get turned away from the polls after waiting for hours to vote due to doubts placed on their citizenship is a huge flaw in the system, one which could easily be repaired but surprisingly is not!
A second key factor which contributed to the defeat of the Democrats was the Republican strategy of tying their oppenents to President Obama and his policies, a strategy which worked very well for them. This is due to the fact that public disapproval of the President remains quite high and this had an effect on Democratic candidates. In a Pew Research poll taken in October, 32% of voters stated that they considered their vote for Congress as a vote against President Obama.
President Obama and the Democratic Party’s approval ratings could have been much higher had they literally, strategically “taken advantage” of the Republican government shutdown in 2013 when many Americans blamed the Republicans. At this point in time, President Obama’s approval rate was quite high, at 47%. This approval rate fell due to the Obama administration’s failure to put the Affordable Care Act in place. After this delay, the approval rate of the President and the Democratic Party never really recovered. Furthermore, President Obama’s detachment from the midterm elections, not fully professing his achievements to the public (stating that his policies would speak for themselves), allowed voters to blame him for what ails the country. The Republicans fully took advantage of this fact in further reinforcing the “blame Obama for everything wrong” situation, deviating from the fact they themselves had absolutely no programs or policies for the country. Very sadly, this strategy worked.
A third key factor in the defeat of the Democrats lies within the strategic shifts within the Republican party. In the midterm elections of 2010 and 2012, Republicans had lost their chances in the Senate by nominating far right candidates who were not acceptable even to many Republican voters. Consequently, Republicans attempted to prove that they were shifting further towards the center, thus neutralizing Democratic efforts to paint them as extremists. The victory of Republican candidate Mia Love, the first ever African American woman to be elected to Congress from the state of Utah (with a majority white, Mormon population) clearly demonstrates this strategic centrist shift being adopted by the Republican party.
On the positive side, it is not all gloom and doom for the Democrats. They continued to preserve their edge among younger voters, African Americans, professionals, Hispanics and single women. Almost all Democratic candidates did well among voters with post-graduate degrees. However, for future elections, Democrats need to win back those voters who have given their support to the Republicans: white working-class and older voters.
Hopefully, the Democratic Party will look within itself and realize that electoral victories do not merely depend on sound public policies. Strategic policies play as great a role. A lesson well learned for the elections in 2016.
Sabria Chowdhury Balland is an international columnist specializing on US political and legal matters and is published in several international publications. She is also a professor of English and French residing in the US and France. You can follow her on Twitter at: @sabriaballand