On Tuesday, Americans will vote in their most important elections outside of the presidential election.
In fact, these elections are arguably the most important because they decide who makes the country’s laws.
And with Americans angry over their economy, it looks as though that law-making power is going to shift way from President Obama’s Democrats and towards the Republicans.
The midterm elections
America’s main elections outside of the heavily publicised presidential election are the congressional elections for the US Congress – the law-making body in Washington.
The midterm congressional elections are named as such because they are held half-way through the four-year term that the president serves.
The Congress consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, both of which need to approve laws before they are made.
Every two years, all members of the House of Representatives are up for election, as well as about a third of the Senators, who serve six-year terms.
The other set of congressional elections take place on the same day as the presidential election.
This year’s election
There are only two parties in American politics – the Democrats, the left-wing party, and the Republicans on the right.
Currently, the Democrats hold the majority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as control of the White House executive branch with Barack Obama as president.
They gained this power in 2008 on a wave of economic fear and voter resentment towards the serving Republican administration of President Bush.
Now that same fear and resentment is pushing the Democrats out again. Voters are frustrated that President Obama and Congress haven’t been able to deliver on their promises to get the unemployment rate down.
The problem is that the economic hole was so big – middle class Americans were too poor and had racked up too much debt – that realistically the Democrats needed more than two years to pull the country out.
Poor private sector job creation has left the unemployment rate at 9.6% (one expert believes the unofficial rate is more like 19%).
This has dampened the hopes that Obama created with his emotional victory in 2008.
To make matters worse, two long-serving Democratic senators, Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd, died in the past year, making it mathematically difficult for Democrats to get their laws approved in the Senate.
This is because Republicans have been staunchly refusing to cooperate on anything, voting no to most pieces of legislating and blocking whatever they can.
So in essence, a large part of the blame for the last two years can be put on them.
But voters don’t see it that way. Even though they blame Congress and not Obama for a lot of their problems (Americans optimistic about their political system is at a 36-year low), it appears they aren’t prepared to give the Democrats another chance.
Persuading them are Republican candidates who have blamed Democrats for not doing enough to help businesses create jobs and for incurring a large budget deficit and government debt after bailing out the banks and auto companies.
More extreme political movements like the Tea Party have garnered the support of those who religiously believe in keeping taxes low and maintaining small government, no matter the economic consequences.
And finally, many Americans blame Obama and his Democrats for changing their healthcare system to allow millions of uninsurable Americans to get cover, believing it will increase their costs.
These messages have been broadcast in recent months thanks to a record US$3 billion being spent on campaign advertising, much of it coming from the bailed out banks and auto companies into the coffers of Republican candidates.
The televised debates and TV ads have been even more nasty than usual, with little clarification on what policies candidates actually stand for.
How it’s shaping up
Current polls show the Republicans will win 54% of the seats in the House of Representatives against the Democrats’ 46%, a 47-seat change giving them a 17-seat majority in the 435-seat chamber.
The Senate is predicted to be a lot closer, with Democrats polling to lose 8 of the total 100 seats to Republicans but maintaining a 2-seat majority.
However, under Senate rules, anything less than a 60-seat voting majority can be blocked by the remaining members in what is known as a filibuster tactic.
In addition to Congress in Washington, there are also elections for the governors of 37 states (essentially the state’s president) and 46 state congresses.
President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and even former President Bill Clinton are travelling the country to various rallies in support of their Democratic candidates in the final week of campaigning.
But it may be not enough to prevent American political power from swinging back to the Republican right, and paralysing any further changes Obama may be hoping to make.
By The Casual Truth
Photo – The Capitol building in Washington, home of the US Congress