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US remains polarised after mid-term elections

February 2019 | by Ben Wilkerson

Capitol Building, Washington DC, United States
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When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the nation, and indeed the world was stunned to see such a monumental political upset as Trump won against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The election baffled pundits and populace alike as Trump won the electoral vote whilst losing the popular vote to Clinton. Despite his political incorrectness and explosive personality, his mantra of ‘Make America Great’ won the hearts of the rural and working class population.

Since his election, the country has only become more demarcated, especially in regards to race issues, foreign policy, and immigration.

According to the Pew Research Center, 54 per cent of Americans are unimpressed with how President Trump is executing his presidency with only 31 per cent actually agreeing with most of his policies. That sentiment was certainly borne out in the midterm election results.

The 2018 US midterm elections saw the greatest turnout for a midterm election since 1914 with over 37 million voters. Even early on, enthusiasm was high among voters and election results for the primaries showed the largest percentage yet — 19.7 per cent voted in the primaries as opposed to 13.7 per cent in 2014 (‘Turnout in this year’s U.S. House Primaries rose sharply, especially on the Democratic side’, Pew Research Center, Oct 3, 2018).

This year was especially significant as all 435 seats in the House of Representatives were up for grabs. Additionally, many states held pivotal elections for governor as well as state and local legislatures and several states swung in favour of the Democratic Party in all levels.

President Donald Trump (Wikipedia / Gage Skidmore)
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With the Senate controlled by the Republican Party and the House of Representatives now controlled by the Democratic Party, political affairs in the US are bound to get interesting.

The US Constitution designates that elections for President occur every four years, House elections every two years, and Senate elections every six years.

It is important to realize that midterm elections, while the turnout may usually be very slim compared to regular elections, are a sort of litmus test for the President’s popularity and approval.

Typically speaking, the President’s party loses ground in the House during the midterm elections, sometimes quite drastically.

Since World War II, the President’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate (‘US Congressional Midterms throughout history’ VOA News, Sept 4, 2018).

Out of the last 39 midterm elections, only a handful have resulted in the President’s party gaining seats in the House (even fewer when his party has won seats in both the House and Senate).

The 2018 midterm elections certainly followed this precedent with Trump losing 27 seats in the House to the Democratic party, well above the 23 seats needed to gain a majority.

In the Senate, the Republican party managed to keep the majority but only by the skin of their teeth with two seats in their favour.

Gubernatorial elections were held in 36 states and these elections too saw dramatic results. The Democrats managed to flip seven states in their favour and many of those elections were heavily contested.

Some elections won by Republicans were only won narrowly, such as in the case of Georgia where Brian Kemp narrowly defeated Stacey Abrams.

Furthermore, election results by gender, race, and ethnicity show a very polarised snapshot of America. While overall, 51 per cent of men voted Republican and 59 per cent of women voted Democrat (40 per cent voted Republican), the large majority of non-white voters voted for the Democratic party (90 per cent Black, 69 per cent Hispanic, and 77 per cent Asian voted for the Democratic party).

Furthermore, young voters favoured the Democratic party. ‘Majorities of voters ages 18 to 29 (67 per cent) and 30 to 44 (58 per cent) favoured the Democratic candidate. Voters ages 45 and older were divided (50 per cent Republican, 49 per cent Democrat),’ according to the Pew Research Center.

For the first time in US history, an openly gay governor, two Muslim women, and two native American women won elections on the state and federal level.

For the first time since the late 1980s, the Democratic party has control of the House and the Republican party has control of the Senate. This will have several political ramifications that could very well pose a political threat to Trump’s policies.

Historically speaking, when the two chambers of Congress are held by opposite parties, partisan legislation has a more difficult time being passed by Congress.

Per the Constitution, ‘All Bills for raising REVENUE shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills. (Article I, section 7)’.

The bills would go back and forth within the two houses until the compromising bill would finally pass. This would mean any bills on gun control, healthcare, or immigration will have trouble seeing the light of day.

This also means that any bills regarding the building of a border wall — one of Trump’s campaign promises — may never see the light of day as well. Any stalemates in regard to the federal budget could also cause a government shutdown.

The Democratic party had hoped to take control of the Senate as well. The Senate has been given power by the Constitution to give consent to presidential appointees of judges, cabinet members, and ambassadors.

With the Republican party in the majority, more of Trump’s appointees could be voted in, especially more Supreme Court Justices. This is especially critical for the Democratic party given the recent debacle with the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh.

What is more interesting is the fact that the House of Representatives also has the constitutional power to impeach. With the House now in the hands of the Democratic party, perhaps the Democratic party will seek to impeach the president.

In an interview with The Washington Post Rep. Gerry Connolly (D. Va) stated the following objective for his party, ‘Obviously the country gave us a mandate to provide some check and balance on the executive that has been sorely missing these last two years… And that involves rigorous oversight and accountability. …This is not a time for holding back or being less than vigorous’. (‘Democrats take House, breaking up GOP’s total control of government’, The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2018).

Doubtless the Democrats will begin making their investigations into Trump’s ascendency and possible collusion in 2016.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi gave a victory speech on Nov 6 stating the party’s intentions: ‘Tomorrow will be a new day in America… It’s about restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration. It’s about stopping the GOP and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s assaults on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and the health care of 130 million Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions.’ (‘Democrats take House, breaking up GOP’s total control of government’, The Washington Post, Nov 7, 2018).

We live in a time where people could not be more divided as to what values they hold dear. Those who favour a particular party run the risk of being labelled as ‘progressive Communist’ or ‘bigoted xenophobe’.

Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats (Source: Wikipedia / Gage Skidmore)
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During this election, a vast majority of participants voted based on party lines rather than what policies they valued. Many of them voted in pure opposition to the President. The Pew Research Center published a report which described some of the key voting factors of this year’s midterm elections.

It stated, ‘Partisan loyalty and dislike of the opposing party and its candidates were major factors for voters’ choices in this month’s midterm elections, with far fewer citing policies as the main reason why they voted for Democratic or Republican candidates’ (‘In midterm voting decisions, policies took a back seat to partisanship’, Pew Research Center, Nov 29, 2018).

This political divide could not be more vivid in regard to religious affiliation. Of those that identify as white evangelicals, 75 per cent voted Republican this year while only 22 per cent in the same group voted Democrat. Among Protestants, 42 per cent voted Democrat and 56 per cent voted Republican.

Among those in other faiths, 73 per cent voted Democrat. An overwhelming percentage of those that consider themselves ‘religious nones’ voted for the Democratic Party (70 per cent).

Considering this in regard to the article from the Pew Research Center concerning why people voted, makes this a disturbing bit of news. The fact that fewer people voted based on real principles and policies means that not only are we becoming less of an educated, thinking populace but we are also tied to party lines rather than whether or not our actions or policies are loving to other people.

Let us pray that the Lord would reform our minds and our hearts to seek his glory, not the glory of the Democratic or Republican party, and that subsequently He would guide us to love our neighbours with our voting.

Ben Wilkerson served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and is a Christian writer residing in the USA.