A midterm shellacking or more for the Democrats

Apart from seat losses, the remainder of the Biden presidency could see little to no movement on the legislative agenda

Published - April 29, 2022 12:06 am IST

U.S. President Joe Biden in Maryland

U.S. President Joe Biden in Maryland | Photo Credit: AFP

There are few in the Democratic Party in the United States at this point in time who are looking at whether or not the U.S. President, Joseph Biden, will run for re-election in 2024. Instead, all eyes and minds are on the U.S. midterm elections on November 8. The general perception is that Mr. Biden and the Democrats are going to lose more than just their shirts and heading into a situation where the next two years of his tenure will be a lame duck one, with little to no movement on the legislative agenda, especially if the Senate also falls to the Grand Old Party. Almost every one of the polls and pundits have written off the House of Representatives.

An argument that might hold

With minor exceptions, the traditional argument has always been that the President’s Party loses the midterm elections; statistics show that since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s elections in 1932, this has always been the case. The party of the President has lost House seats in 19 out of 22 midterm polls; and 15 out 22 in the Senate. In 2022, a total of 469 seats are in the reckoning — 435 in the House and 34 in the Senate (14 held by Democrats and 20 by the Grand Old Party). And in November, there are five Republican incumbents not seeking re-election. All eyes are on the Senate where the two parties are tied at 50, with the Republicans looking to gain only one seat to take control of the Chamber.

Polls and Biden’s standing

If Mr. Biden is going to take a beating on November 8, he will not be the first; some of his predecessors have had to face the heat as well. In 1994, Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate; George Bush in 2006 lost 30 in the House and six in the Senate; Barack Obama was swamped in 2010 when he lost 63 in the House and six in the Senate; and during the Donald Trump Presidency, the Republicans lost control of the House as they lost 39 seats but added two in the Senate. But if the President and Democrats are facing special attention this time around, some of it has to do with the fact that the political spectrum is not past the hangover of the 2020 Presidential election and in what the 46th President set out to do in January 2021.

There are at least two things that worry the Democrats. First, the President’s standing among young Americans: in a latest poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, only 41% of young Americans approve of Mr. Biden’s performance — down from 46% from last fall and 59% from last Spring. There may not be a correlation between the approval standing of young Americans and midterm poll results, but Mr. Biden has to be reminded that in the last presidential elections of 2020, he had the backing of 69% of this category; and his approval rating of the economy is just 34% among young adults. Mr. Biden scores better on his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic and Ukraine.

Second, Mr. Biden’s standing among the minorities (who have always stood by the Democrats) is also falling and alarmingly at that. In the presidential election of 2020, it was estimated that 90% of the African-American community voted for Mr. Biden; but since 2021, the approval rating of the President fell from 86% to 76%, with much of this being attributed to the political troubles encountered by the Democrats on voting rights and ‘Build Back Better’ legislations. The African-American community had played a crucial role in Mr. Biden’s victory in the swing states and in the south; sitting at home and not voting in November on account of apathy will make a huge difference.

Hispanics are disappointed

But the bigger shocker to the Biden White House and the Democrats comes from the support of the Hispanics which has fallen to an agonising 26% (or less than the support from the whites) in a latest Quinnipiac Poll. The Hispanics had hoped for solid movement on the all-important issue of immigration that has turned out to be a huge disappointment. In fact this latest poll puts Mr. Biden’s overall rating at 33%, the lowest among all surveys of recent months. One argument that is made is that the minority groups are turned off because of an overemphasis on the agenda of the progressives and left-leaning Democrats.

With six months to go for the midterms, traditional Democrats must be concerned at the direction of the White House and in the inability to craft a message or fine tune the messenger. Neither Mr. Biden nor the Democrats have the luxury of sitting back and arguing that nearly every President in the recent past was on the same level prior to their midterms; even Donald Trump was on much better footing at this time of his presidency while his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, were way ahead in the approval-disapproval rating prior to the midterms.

‘All politics is local’

There is no doubt that Mr. Biden is a decent person, but hanging everything on the coattails of Russian President Vladimir Putin is not going to work. Inflation has been running high for the last several months and gas prices have been hitting the roof long before Mr. Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine. Undoubtedly, there have been gains in the economy and the job market but few in the party or the administration have been able to project this in the midst of all the noise that has been generated. Foreign policy barely makes a dent in American elections for as the former Speaker of the House of Representatives said, “All Politics is Local”. And having been in the corridors of politics for close to four decades in Washington DC, Mr. Biden should know better.

Sridhar Krishnaswami was a former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and the United Nations

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