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Midterm elections: surprising results, or not so much?

In the midterm elections in the United States on 6 November, the Democrats won the majority in the House of Representatives, thus regaining control of the House over the Republicans. But the Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate. Three of our researchers, experts on US politics, share their thoughts on these ‘split’ results.

Giles Scott-Smith, professor of Diplomatic History of Transatlantic Relations

‘This outcome does not really surprise me. Everyone knew that the Senate was going to stay Republican and the House would probably shift to the Democrats. And the Democrats still have no obvious leader to take them forward, beyond Nancy Pelosi in the House. The most striking outcome is, in my opinion, the number of successful female candidates. Notable successes that see the first Muslim women and the first Native American women enter Congress. In the wake of Hilary Clinton's failed presidential bid of 2016, this is both interesting and valuable to take forward. Also, Beto O'Rourke came remarkably close to unseating Ted Cruz as Senator in Texas. This is either a positive sign that the Democrats can mobilise the electorate in unexpected places, or a negative indication that even with a very charismatic candidate they are unable to win big contests.’

‘These results will give rise to more partisan deadlock in the US government. We will probably see greater efforts by the Republicans to make full use of their privileges through controlling the Senate, including with official appointments and foreign policy. I also expect a further decline of US leadership, with the possible escalation of the economic and political conflicts between the US, Russia, and China as a result. I do not think these outcomes will alter the relations between Europe and the US. Relations are rocky, not just because of Trump's disdain for the EU, criticism of NATO, and cosying up to Putin, but also because of the disarray in European politics. Both the US and Europe are houses divided.’

Brendan Carroll, researcher on comparative public policy and EU governance

‘I am not surprised by the outcome. Leading up to the election, the news sources that I rely on for the most part predicted that the Democrats would retake the House (although it would not be a sure thing) and the Republicans would hold on to the Senate. Two things did surprise me: that the Republicans actually gained seats in the Senate and that the turnout was so large. The latter is for me the most striking thing about this midterm election. Although definitive figures on turnout are not yet available, many places across the country are reporting much higher than average voter participation.’

‘With the Democrats in control of the House, the range of policy choice available to Trump will be smaller. It will be difficult for the Democrats to advance their agenda, of course, with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House, but the ability of the Republicans to push forward theirs will be more restricted. They will, for example, have a difficult time repealing Obamacare. At the same time, they will still be able to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices, and Trump’s foreign policy is unlikely to be affected.’

Sara Polak, researcher on American studies and public history

‘The results show that a new generation of American politicians is arising. Mainly within the Democratic party, but definitely not only on the federal level. An unprecedented number of female candidates, often non-white, often young, was elected into office for the first time last night. They represent a grassroots movement among Democrats – largely in response to Trump’s overt sexism and white-supremacist dog-whistling. An unprecedented number of women and minority candidates (e.g. Ihlan Omar of Minnesota or Sharice Davids of Kansas) have been elected to the House. And since the majority party gets to appoint Chairs of many important committees, a road to growth and visibility is opened for a number of high-potential candidates.’

‘There were three high-profile races for Governor, in Texas, Georgia and Florida, all with Democratic challengers representing the new wave within the party: Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum. All three were narrowly lost (Abrams has not conceded at the moment of writing). These are early signs of the new wind that is blowing in the party. It is not there yet, and is held back, now and probably in the future, by Republican attempts to suppress poor and minority voters.’

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