1. What are Americans voting for at the Midterms?
Midterm elections are pretty complicated because Americans are voting for a lot of things. From a Washington perspective, they are voting to decide whether Democrats get to keep control of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, which is to say whether Democrats get to keep total control of the Federal Government because you have a Democratic President. That’s a big and huge deal in of itself. Then you also have 30 plus Governors races across the country, the Chief Executive of every state, that’s a huge job anyway, it’s an especially big job now that the Supreme Court has said abortion is not a federal right, it’s a state-by-state issue. There are a number of other issues, such as administration of elections which is a big issue in the United States right now. But the thing that gets the most attention in the midterm election is will the President’s party lose power and that often happens in a first midterm election. So the House and the Senate will get the most attention around the world, is Joe Biden weakened will be one of the questions, is he a weaker President coming out of this, how are the fundamentals of Washington power structure changed coming out of this. But the State elections are incredibly important, they sometimes get ignored or less attention in the early days but they are absolutely critical.
2. What are the key issues for voters?
You see in all the polling data right now, the number one issue by far, the majority of Americans say the economy and inflation, is their number one issue. It’s just a punishing time. Even though President Biden can rightly say employment in the United States is back above pre-pandemic levels, 10 million jobs have been created since Joe Biden assumed the presidency. The fundamentals of the American economy are still pretty strong and if you look around the world inflation is a global problem, slow growth is a global problem, and the American economy is doing pretty well among the top 2 or 3 around the world. But there’s no question inflation is the number one issue of voters. That doesn’t mean the secondary issues don’t also influence their vote. The President late in the campaign trying to convince people the threats to the American democracy should maybe outweigh inflation or at least compete with inflation when voters are making up their minds and getting ready to fill out their ballots. There’s been a lot of Republican money spent trying to raise crime as an issue, there’s rising crime in many American cities, but there’s no question the economy and inflation are by far the dominate issue and when you’re the party in power and people are anxious or even mad and frustrated, they tend to take it out on you. That may not be fair, President’s don’t have magic wands when it comes to inflation, when it comes to gas prices that’s a global commodity, a supply and demand issue, but that’s just the nature of the beast and so rising prices is the biggest issue right now and I think it is magnified because people are exhausted from covid and they thought the election of Joe Biden would bring a period of calm or adult leadership, things would be quiet. Things are not quiet. So there’s the specifics of the economy and inflation and then there’s the general ‘did we get what we thought we were going to get when we elected Joe Biden’. And because the pandemic continues and because inflation is bad, a lot of Americans think ‘I wanted a break and didn’t get one’.
3. Abortion has been a hugely controversial issue since the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v Wade, how much could that hurt the Republicans at these elections?
The abortion dynamic is fascinating to watch and when we count the votes we’ll have a much better sense of this. There is no doubt right after the Supreme Court made that decision in June, if you look at voter registration in July and August, there’s no question more young people were registering to vote, more women were registering to vote, and if you looked at where that was happening, it was happening in suburban areas that tend to be very decisive when it comes to close state-wide elections. So the initial reaction politically, even though Democrats were mad at the result, politically you did see a benefit for Democrats and it hurt Republicans. Because the inflation story has been so dominate in American life the polling data tells you abortion has dropped down as an issue but let’s watch what happens in the suburbs. These races are going to be so close, even a tiny swing can change them.
4. Joe Biden’s approval ratings have steadied but are not high, to what extent are these elections a referendum on his Presidency?
The first midterm election is almost always a referendum on the President and by extension his party. History tells you it’s a referendum on the President and the party in power and the president’s approval rating is like a north star of midterm politics and in that regard President Biden looks to be in trouble as we approach election day. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of the job he’s doing, when you have numbers like that, normally it doesn’t go well for you. There are a number of other dynamics in play, this is a complicated year so you have to wait and count the votes.
5. How big an influence will Donald Trump have on the midterms?
The Trump question is a fascinating one. If you go back a couple of months, he started doing rallies again and started moving around the country and Democrats were happy and Republicans, his party, were nervous. He has taken a lower profile as we get closer to the election, he has a couple of rallies mostly in safe republican places. President Biden is trying to make him an issue with references about democracy and people who deny election results, but Trump has made a decision not to have a daily rally, to not be everywhere. I think after the election that will change and Donald Trump will try to re-assert himself as a daily presence in American political life. Republicans believe this year is trending their way and they don’t want to do anything to mess with the fundamentals of the election, and some of them would say especially with Donald Trump, because when Donald Trump comes in, the apple cart gets tipped over.
6. There are some controversial candidates on the ballot, who should we be watching out for, and which are the key races to watch?
The biggest controversy and the biggest issue, and I would argue the biggest threat to America politics and democracy right now, is the proliferation of Republican candidates who either deny the 2020 election results who continue to this day to say the election was stolen from Donald Trump when it was not or who say maybe if I lose this election I won’t respect the results because the system is rigged and some who further go on to say maybe we need to have someone at the state level to review the votes of the people. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican that’s dangerous. There has to be respect for the system, for the way we count, for the rule of law. What Donald Trump has done is create a growing number of people in his own party who refuse to accept there has to be an end game if they lose and that’s dangerous. It is a literal threat to the system. In a number of states, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, you have candidates who are Republicans who are election deniers. But if the people vote them in, you have to respect the will of the people if they win the election fair and square, so we’re going to be in a fascinating and possibly controversial place if these candidates win and continue to hold their views. I think we are entering a very challenging period in American life and American politics
7. Is it a realistic ambition for the Democrats to maintain control over both the House and the Senate?
It is possible the Democrats will maintain control over both the House and the Senate but historically, in the last two Presidencies, Obama and Trump, one a Democrat one a Republican, both of those Presidents lost the House in their first midterm election. History says Joe Biden will lose the House. And because the Senate is so close going into the election, 50-50 with the Vice President breaking the tie, it’s also quite possible they lose the Senate. This is why it’s so fascinating and why we count votes.
John King, Anchor & Chief National Correspondent, CNN