Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is a paid election analyst for The Conversation. His work for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
The US debt limit is a legislative limit on the total amount of debt the US government can incur. As the US keeps running deficits, the debt keeps rising. Congress could deal with this issue permanently by either removing the debt limit, or increasing it to an arbitrarily high number. But instead Congress has only raised the debt limit enough to give about one year’s grace before it needs to be raised again. The last time the debt limit was raised was in December 2021.
The US already hit the debit limit on January 19, but the Treasury is taking extraordinary measures to delay a default; these measures are expected to last until June. While the US has never defaulted, there have been previous debt limit crises in 2011 and 2013.
The key reason for the 2011 and 2013 crises was divided government; Democrat Barack Obama was president, but Republicans held the House of Representatives. This situation applies now, with President Joe Biden, but Republicans holding the House. Republicans have attempted to use the debt limit to demand spending cuts.
Republicans only hold a 222-212 House majority, and it took 15 rounds of voting for Republican Kevin McCarthy to be elected House Speaker in early January. But right-wing Republicans extracted concessions from McCarthy, and the Speaker decides what comes to the floor. To keep the right happy, McCarthy is likely to deny a vote on any debt ceiling increase that does not include major spending cuts, and such cuts would be unacceptable to Democrats.
Democrats had unified control of the presidency, House and Senate until January 3 when the new House commenced. But they made no serious attempt to raise the debt limit, and avert a crisis until after the 2024 presidential election. If there is a default, the failure to raise the debt limit will come back to bite Democrats, the US generally and the world.
It currently appears unlikely that Biden will face a serious primary challenge for the Democratic nomination. Biden will be almost 82 by the November 2024 presidential election, and has had a disapproval rating over 50% in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate since October 2021.
UK Labour retains huge poll lead with local elections in May
Over 100 days since Rishi Sunak became British PM, Labour has about a 20-point lead over the Conservatives, with Labour in the high 40s, the Conservatives in the mid to high 20s, the Liberal Democrats at 7-10%, the Greens at 4-6% and the far-right Reform at 3-8%. On February 9, Labour easily retained West Lancashire at a by-election by 62.3% to 25.4% over the Conservatives (52.1-36.3 at the 2019 general election).
Local government elections will be held in England on May 4 and Northern Ireland on May 18. Most of the English seats up were last contested in 2019, at which Labour and the Conservatives tied on 28% each with 19% for the Lib Dems. If Labour wins these council elections by the crushing margin polls currently give them, there would be a huge number of Conservative losses, and Sunak would be under pressure, with the Conservatives perhaps moving back to former PM Boris Johnson. The next UK general election is not due until late 2024.
Nicola Sturgeon resigned as leader of the Scottish National Party on Wednesday. A weaker SNP would make it easier for Labour to win seats in Scotland, giving them a better chance to win an overall Commons majority if their current lead shrinks to single digits.
NZ Labour improves, but National + ACT still ahead
The New Zealand election is in October, with proportional representation used with a 5% threshold unless a party wins a single-member seat. Chris Hipkins replaced Jacinda Ardern as Labour leader and PM on January 22. Polls taken since this change have shown Labour narrowly ahead of National or tied, but the right-wing ACT is ahead of the Greens. So the combined vote for National and ACT is still ahead of that for Labour and Greens.
Recent election results
In the January 27-29 Czech presidential runoff, the pro-Western Pavel defeated the populist Babis by a 58.3-41.7 margin. At the February 12 Cypriot presidential runoff, the centre-left and nationalist candidate defeated the far-left candidate by a 52.0-48.0 margin after the conservative candidate was eliminated in the first round.