Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
Most US states hold their elections concurrently with federal elections, but a few hold theirs in November of an odd year; federal elections occur each November of an even year. State elections this November 2 include contests for the governor of Virginia and New Jersey. There are also two federal House by-elections in Ohio.
In Virginia, which Joe Biden won by 10.1% in 2020, Democrat McAuliffe is ahead of Republican Youngkin by just 2.5% in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. Biden won New Jersey by 15.9%, and two September polls gave incumbent Democratic governor Murphy a nine to 13 point lead.
For the US House by-elections, Biden won the Ohio 11th by more than 60%, while Donald Trump won the Ohio 15th by 14% according to Daily Kos elections. While both districts are expected to be held by the incumbent party, swings from the 2020 results will be interesting.
Many expected Biden’s ratings to recover from Afghanistan, but this has not occurred. Two months since the fall of Kabul, his ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are 49.6% disapprove, 44.6% approve (net -5.0). Biden’s ratings are worse than for any past president since Harry Truman at this point in their presidencies except for Trump and Gerald Ford, who took over after Richard Nixon resigned.
I previously suggested that Biden could suffer long-term damage from Afghanistan owing to undermining his core strength of competence. Other factors are the continuing US COVID crisis and inflation in the economy. In four of the five months from April to August, real disposable personal income contracted. Biden’s RealClearPolitics net approval on the economy is -5.6.
If Biden’s ratings do not recover, they will be a problem for Democrats in the November 2022 midterm elections, in which the whole House and one-third of the Senate is up for election.
Can Democrats pass Biden’s infrastructure agenda?
In my introduction to live coverage of the German election, I covered key US Congress votes on infrastructure, the budget and the debt limit. Congress has procrastinated both the budget and debt limit fights until at least December. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell came to a deal that would raise the debt limit enough that the US will not default until at least December.
Democrats control the House by 220-212 and the Senate 50-50 with Harris’ casting vote. But it takes 60 votes for most legislation to pass the Senate as this is needed to shut down filibusters (get “cloture”). Despite McConnell’s support for the debt limit increase, the cloture vote was 61-38, just one above the required threshold. Republicans were opposed by 38-11, so McConnell’s leadership could be under threat if he makes further concessions.
Democrats want to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIB) that previously passed the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority and a Democratic infrastructure bill (DIB) that would rely on a special process called “reconciliation” to circumvent the filibuster.
The problem is that House progressives won’t vote for the BIB before the DIB has passed the Senate. And two Democratic senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, are resisting the DIB. Manchin has the excuse that WV voted for Trump by 39% in 2020, but Biden won Arizona by 0.3%, and it has been trending Democratic.
A major problem for Democrats is the Senate, where there are two senators per state. The US has become far more polarized along rural/urban lines in recent times. Analyst Nate Silver said that 52% of the US overall population is in a big city, suburbs or small city, while 48% is either rural or in a small town or exurban. However, the average state’s population is 61-39 towards rural, exurban and small town areas.
Late counting updates
With counting final for the September 14 California recall election, Democratic governor Gavin Newsom defeated Recall by a 61.9-38.1 margin, down from 63.9-36.1 after election night. The Newsom margin is the same as in the 2018 regular election, but down from Biden’s 29-point margin in California.
The Liberals won an additional seat at the September 20 Canadian election, after a Quebec Bloc win by 286 votes in one seat became a Liberal win by 12 votes after a recount. The Liberals won 160 of the 338 seats, ten short of the 170 required for a majority.