FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
US election a referendum on Obama's presidency
, August 21, 2010
As Australia prepares to go to the polls, the United States is also switching into election mode for its mid-term Congressional elections, which will take place on November 2, 2010.
This election is critically important to the future of the United States. It will not only be a referendum on Barack Obama, but will determine whether he gets his legislative program through Congress in the remaining two years of his presidency.
All 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives will be up for election, together with 37 of the 100 Senate seats.
Four years ago, as the George W. Bush presidency struggled under the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the collapse of the housing bubble, Democrats swept all before them, winning decisive majorities in both Houses of Congress.
They won 257 seats in the House of Representatives, to the Republicans' 178, laying the foundation for Obama's win in the 2008 presidential election.
For the past four years, the Democrats have had control of Congress, and for the past two years, the presidency itself; but the Democrats have been unable to deal with the massive growth in unemployment, now about 10 per cent of the workforce, or with the soaring US public and private sector debt, or the decline in American manufacturing industry which has seen millions of jobs exported to Mexico and, more recently, China.
Additionally, there is widespread opposition to the war in Afghanistan, despite its having bipartisan support.
Opinion polls in the United States show a steady swing away from Obama and the Democrats, although the polls cannot adequately compensate for the fact that voting in the United States is voluntary, and only about 60 per cent of eligible citizens cast a vote.
The American Gallup poll, for example, showed recently that, among registered voters (who are most likely to vote), the Republicans have a 49:43 margin. This is the largest since Gallup began polling for these elections last March.
Even more significantly, the Republicans have enjoyed at least a 10 per cent advantage in voting enthusiasm since March, suggesting that Republican supporters are more likely to turn out to vote.
Another cause for concern among Democrats is that Americans' confidence in their Congress has fallen to just 17 per cent, the lowest of 18 institutions polled. Significantly, it is lower than other institutions which Americans have traditionally held in low regard, including big business, banks, television news and newspapers.
Americans have consistently told pollsters that the economy is the most important national problem, and blame the Democrats for the failure of the economy to climb out of the recession.
Apart from 10 per cent unemployment, there is a further 18 per cent of workers under-employed.
Last week, Obama said that under his Administration, the economy had moved to a state of "robust competitiveness", and said that the danger of jobs and industries fleeing overseas to countries like India, China and Germany were over. But most Americans simply don't believe him.
However, what may yet save the Democrats is that the Republicans have yet to put forward a credible alternate agenda to rebuild the American economy, and stop the relentless export of manufacturing and employment to low-wage countries overseas.
On international affairs, only 36 per cent of Americans support Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan, although a majority of Americans say they support the original decision by President Bush to intervene militarily.
Even on healthcare, which Obama has made the signature issue of his presidency, most Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue, which now garners only 40 per cent support.
In fact, Obama does not have a majority behind him on any of the seven major issues: energy, the economy, terrorism, healthcare, Afghanistan, global warming or job-creation.
Interestingly, the polls show how deep is the racial divide in the United States. In August, 88 per cent of black Americans supported Obama, compared to 54 per cent of Hispanics and just 38 per cent of whites.
If, as seems likely, the Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives, it will restrict Obama's radical social agenda, and position the Republicans for a tilt at the presidency in 2012.
The position in the US Senate is more complicated, as elections will be held for only 37 of the 100 Senate seats. Currently, the Democrats have a massive 57-to-41 seat majority, with two independents who caucus with the Democrats. It would require a landslide for the Democrats to lose control of the Senate, although the lack of party discipline in the Senate means that a government can often get legislation through a nominally hostile Senate.
The 2010 elections will give a clear view of where Americans want their government to go over the next few years. The outcome will be important not only for America, but for all who look to the United States for moral and political leadership against totalitarianism and extremism.