Putin’s Ukraine invasion plus two weeks

If conquered, Ukraine could have a terrible future. Plus latest polls and elections from the US, France, Hungary, South Korea and New Zealand.

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.

If Vladimir Putin eventually succeeds in conquering Ukraine, it’s plausible he will commit massive atrocities.  Conquerors can do this for two reasons: out of frustration at greater than expected resistance and as a warning to other potential conquests.

The Nazis are the most commonly cited evil government, and there is relatively little knowledge of other governments that committed atrocities.  I will give one example: the man-made Soviet famine.  There are also many examples in fantasy books, such as The Hunger Games.

This would not be the first time Ukraine has been subjected to Russian atrocities.  In 1932-33 there was a horrific famine that is estimated to have killed 4 to 7 million Ukrainians.  This famine was man-made, involving rejection of outside aid and confiscation of food.  There is scholarly dispute over whether this was intentional genocide by Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, or reckless disregard for human life in the cause of industrialization.

Western sanctions are already damaging Russia economically, so I don’t think Putin will be restrained by fear of further sanctions.  The one thing Putin may fear is a direct military confrontation between the West and Russia, but the West is unlikely to get involved in this way for fear of provoking nuclear war.

With voters strongly supporting Western sanctions, and Ukraine resisting so far, incumbents have increased their support in the second week of the invasion, particularly France’s Emmanuel Macron.  But the increase in oil prices due to the sanctions will add to inflation, and if Ukraine falls, voters may ask why more wasn’t done militarily. 

US, French, Hungarian, South Korean and New Zealand elections and polls

51.6% currently disapprove of Joe Biden’s performance in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, and 42.5% approve (net -9.1).  Biden’s net approval has improved 2.5 points since last week to his best since early January.  In redistricting news, the US Supreme Court rejected a Republican challenge to state court-drawn maps in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The first round of the French presidential election is April 10, with the runoff April 24.  In the last two weeks, Macron has surged from the mid 20s to the low 30s in first round polling, with the far-right’s Marine Le Pen on about 18% and now clearly ahead of both the more far-right Éric Zemmour and conservative Valérie Pécresse in the race for the second runoff spot.  There has been no runoff polling since last week, when Macron led Le Pen 56-44.

The Hungarian election is April 3.  The far-right Fidesz has governed since 2010, but faces a challenge from a united opposition (important as 106 of the 199 seats are elected by first-past-the-post).  Fidesz is leading by a few points, but no polls have been conducted since the Ukraine invasion.

At Wednesday’s South Korean presidential election, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol defeated the centre-left Lee Jae-myung by a 48.6-47.8 margin; FPTP is used.  The conservatives retook the presidency after one five-year term for the left.  Yoon is an anti-feminist who has pledged to abolish the ministry for gender equality. 

A New Zealand Morgan poll, conducted in February, gave the conservative National 38%, the highest since January 2020 and an 11.5% increase since Christopher Luxon replaced Judith Collins as National leader in late 2021.  National and the right-wing ACT now lead Labour and the Greens by 49.5-43, with just 32% supporting Labour.

Putin’s Ukraine invasion plus one week

Commentary on the invasion that began last Thursday, and a look at the polls since the invasion in the US, UK and France, where there are elections in April.

12:29pm Friday UK Labour has retained Birmingham Erdington at a by-election by a 55.5-36.3 margin over the Conservatives, up from 50-40 at the 2019 election. The Lib Dems and Greens had about 1% each.

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.

Vladimir Putin began Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Historically, attempts to conquer sovereign countries have not been unusual. Alexander the Great and Napoleon are still famed as conquerors. The Roman empire did much conquering, and European colonial powers were very cruel to native populations. The UK’s Queen Elizabeth is the descendant of William the Conqueror, who conquered England in 1066.

Occasionally invasions by more powerful countries are repelled. Two examples from the UK are Scotland repelling England in the 14th century, and the UK repelling the Nazis early in WW2. But in most cases, the only feasible protection for smaller countries is to be allied to bigger powers that will fight if the smaller ones are invaded.

Putin’s gamble was that the West would not send major military equipment, such as tanks, warships and aircraft, to support Ukraine. Without this support, it is likely that weight of numbers will eventually allow Russia to conquer Ukraine. While sanctions will damage the Russian economy, they won’t stop the Russian tanks or artillery. In a drawn-out invasion, civilian casualties will be high.

I am sceptical that Ukraine will continue to resist if conquered. Tyrannical regimes are effective at brutally suppressing dissent. There isn’t news anymore about Chechnya, which rebelled against Russia in the 2000s.

The polling is not like the reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The only leader who has received a massive jump is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose approval surged 59 points since December to 91%.

US: Biden’s ratings down, 62% say invasion wouldn’t have occurred under Trump

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, 53.0% disapprove of Joe Biden’s performance and 41.5% approve (net -11.5). Biden’s net approval has dropped about one point since the invasion.

In a poll conducted at the start of the invasion, 62%, including 38% of Democrats, thought Putin would not have invaded had Donald Trump still been president. 59% thought Putin ordered the invasion because he saw weakness in Biden, while 41% thought Biden was not a factor.

I believe this polling highlights that the fallout from the Afghanistan troop withdrawal in August 2021 has crippled Biden on any national security issue. It also continues to affect his ratings on eg the economy because voters have lost confidence in his competence.

In US redistricting news, courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania have finalised new maps. The new NC map was created after courts rejected a Republican gerrymander, while Pennsylvanian courts resolved a dispute between the Democratic governor and Republican legislature. In Ohio, Republicans used their majority on a redistricting commission to pass a gerrymander, but it is likely to be rejected by state courts.

Overall, there are currently 179 Democratic-leaning seats in the FiveThirtyEight tracker, 171 Republican-leaning and 33 competitive. Democrats are up 11 seats from the old maps, Republicans down six and competitive down six.

Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace the retiring Stephen Breyer on the US Supreme Court. If confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate, Jackson will be the first Black woman Supreme Court judge. But she will replace a left-wing judge, and the 6-3 right majority will be retained.

France: a Macron vs Le Pen runoff more likely

The first round of the French presidential election will occur April 10, with a runoff April 24 between the top two. Since the Ukraine invasion, incumbent Emmanuel Macron has gained to be in the mid to high 20s from the mid 20s. The latest polls suggest the far-right Marine Le Pen has moved ahead of both the more far-right Éric Zemmour and conservative Valérie Pécresse.

Pécresse had appeared to be the most competitive runoff opponent for Macron, but the latest two runoff polls have Macron winning by about 60-40. Le Pen is now closest, with Macron leading her by about 56-44.

UK: Little change as Labour faces by-election

The Ukraine invasion has not changed the polls very much in the UK, with Labour ahead of the Conservatives by a low single digit margin, reflecting a continuing recovery for Boris Johnson from “Partygate”.

Polls close at 9am AEDT Friday for a by-election in Birmingham Erdington, which Labour won by a 50-40 margin over the Conservatives in 2019.

US Democrats continue to gain in redistricting

But Joe Biden’s ratings remain poor. Also: Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister, Socialists win a majority in Portugal and Macron likely in France.

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.

Redistricting of the 435 Congressional Districts for US federal House elections occurs once a decade based on the Census. Some states use independent commissions, but in most a party that has control of the legislature and governor can gerrymander. Sometimes state courts reject gerrymanders.

In the FiveThirtyEight tracker, there are 160 Democratic-leaning seats, 141 Republican-leaning seats and 26 competitive seats in new maps. Changes from the previous maps are Democrats up 11, Republicans down three and competitive down eight.

Democrats in New York used their control of the state legislature and governor to impose a likely 22-4 Democratic gerrymander of NY’s CDs, up from the current 19-8 delegation. Republicans still controlled the state Senate in 2010, the last redistricting year. In other good redistricting news for Democrats, the North Carolina state courts rejected a Republican gerrymander, joining Ohio in doing this.

A three-judge federal court with two Trump appointees required a second Black opportunity seat in Alabama. But the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 right majority, put a stay on this decision in a 5-4 judgment until they hear the case. The 6-1 Republican map passed by the legislature will stay for at least the 2022 elections.

Joe Biden’s ratings remain poor, with 53.1% disapproving and 41.9% approving in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate (net -11.2). He has almost overtaken Trump in having the worst net approval of any president at this stage in their term since approval polling began with Truman (1945-53).

Inflation increased 0.6% in January for a 12-month rate of 7.5%,, the highest since 1982, as 12-month real weekly wages dropped 3.1%. Given the Afghanistan fallout, it’s unlikely a Russian invasion of the Ukraine will boost Biden’s ratings.

UK: Boris Johnson still PM

In my previous article in late January, it had appeared likely that the 54 no-confidence letters from Conservative MPs needed to trigger a full confidence vote in Boris Johnson would be submitted soon. But they were not submitted in the next three parliamentary weeks, and there is a parliamentary recess this week, giving Johnson respite until at least February 21.

There are still dangers for Johnson. The first is being fined by the police over the parties held during lockdown he attended. But an aspect that has angered the public is that Johnson and his colleagues have got away with clear rule breaches, when the police would have jumped on ordinary people who held lockdown parties. If Johnson is seen to be punished, that could assuage public anger.

A second danger for Johnson is if the Conservatives get thrashed at the May 5 local elections. Electricity and gas bills will rise 54% for a typical household in April – terrible timing for Johnson and Conservative councilor candidates.

Previously, I suggested voters could move on from the “PartyGate” affair. The last three UK polls have had Labour’s lead over the Conservatives dropping to 3-5 points from the high single digits polls previously gave Labour.

The Conservatives retained Southend West at a February 3 by-election with 86% of the vote. Owing to the murder of the previous MP, no other party with a national profile contested.

Majority for centre-left Socialists in Portugal

At the January 30 Portuguese election, the Socialists won 119 of the 230 seats (up 11 since 2019), the conservative Social Democrats 73 (down one), the far-right Chega 12 (up 11), the right-wing Liberal Initiative eight (up seven) and two far-left parties, who were blamed for the early election, won 11 combined seats (down 20).

Popular votes were 41.5% Socialists, 27.8% Social Democrats, 7.3% Chega, 4.9% Liberal Initiative and 8.7% for the far-left, with the Socialists outperforming the polls. Portugal uses proportional representation, but distributes its seats on a regional basis; this allows bigger parties to win more seats than using national PR.

French elections: April 10 and 24

The first round of the French presidential election will be held April 10, with a runoff April 24. Incumbent Emmanuel Macron is in a clear first place in the first round with about 24%, but the second runoff position could plausibly go to any of the far-right Marine Le Pen, the conservative Valérie Pécresse or the even more far-right Éric Zemmour. In runoff polls, Macron gets over 60% against Zemmour, about 56% against Le Pen and about 54% against Pécresse.

Will Boris Johnson be ousted as UK Prime Minister soon?

Speculation last week that Johnson would face a full Conservative confidence vote has so far come to nought. Also: US redistricting, French, Portuguese and Chile elections.

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.

For a UK Conservative leader to be ousted, the first step is for 15% of the party’s MPs to send letters expressing no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady. As there are currently 359 Conservatives in the House of Commons, 54 letters expressing no confidence in Boris Johnson are required.

If this first threshold is met, there is a secret ballot of all Conservative MPs. If the leader wins this confidence vote, they cannot be challenged for another year, although this rule could be amended. If the leader loses, they would be expected to be a caretaker PM until the next leader is elected.

Last week there was speculation that an announcement that Brady had received the 54 letters was imminent, but it did not occur. Johnson’s danger is due to the parties that were held while the UK was in COVID lockdown at Downing Street. This caused a slump for the Conservatives in the polls in December. The Conservatives regained some ground in early January, only for even more party revelations to crash their vote again. Some Conservatives may be waiting for Sue Gray’s report into the parties, expected next week, before moving against Johnson.

It was bad timing for Johnson that these party revelations came when the UK was suffering another COVID wave due to Omicron. This made people’s memories of past lockdowns more vivid, and so the parties resonated more than they would otherwise. In good news for Johnson, the Omicron wave is subsiding, with cases way down from their peak and hospitalisations also starting to fall.

I am dubious that ousting Johnson would be in the Conservatives’ electoral interests. While Johnson is very unpopular now, voters tend to move past non-recurring issues. The parties occurred in the last two years, and are unlikely to cause voters additional pain in the future. As the UK COVID situation improves, voters are likely to move past the parties.

Another argument against removing Johnson is that he “got Brexit done”. At the 2019 election, non-uni whites swung strongly to the Conservatives over Johnson’s promise to “get Brexit done” – see my Conversation article last May. Will these voters remain Conservative under another Conservative PM?

Democrats gain in US redistricting, but Biden’s ratings remain poor

A US Census is held every ten years, with the boundaries of Congressional Districts set for ten years by that Census. Most states have completed redistricting of their CDs from the 2020 Census. The FiveThirtyEight tracker says that there are 129 Democratic-leaning seats, 124 Republican-leaning seats and 21 highly competitive seats in the new maps so far. The changes from the old maps are Democrats up seven, Republicans up one and competitive down six.

While some states use nonpartisan commissions to draw their maps, in most states redistricting is up to politicians. If one party holds the governor and both chambers of the legislature in a state, that party can gerrymander. Republican-controlled Florida (28 CDs) and Democratic New York (26) are the two biggest states still to complete redistricting. A Republican gerrymander in Ohio was rejected by the state courts, and this could also occur in North Carolina.

Biden’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 53.5% disapprove, 41.9% approve (net -11.6). They have worsened recently owing to the recent COVID surge. There has been no recent progress with the Democratic legislative agenda. Inflation over the full 2021 year was 7.0%, the highest since 1982. A recent CBS YouGov poll indicates voters think Biden is not focussed enough on combatting inflation.

French, Portuguese and Chile developments

The first round of the French presidential election is on April 10, with a runoff between the top two on April 24. Conservative Valérie Pécresse has slipped behind the far-right Marine Le Pen in the race for second with incumbent Emmanuel Macron well ahead in first. Macron easily beats Le Pen, but it’s closer against Pécresse.

A Portuguese election will be held on January 30, with 230 seats elected by proportional representation. Polls indicate a close contest between the overall left and overall right. Portugal currently has a left government.

At the December 19 Chilean presidential runoff election, left-wing Boric defeated the far-right Kast by 55.9-44.1.

US off-year elections live

Live coverage of today’s US state elections in Virginia and New Jersey, and two federal by-elections in Ohio. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Analysis: Democrats staring at midterm election abyss next November

In 2020, Democrats won the federal House be a 222-213 margin, losing 13 seats from the 2018 results, despite Biden winning the presidency. All House seats and one-third of the Senate, which Democrats control 50-50 with Harris’ casting vote, are up for election in November 2022.

Analyst Dave Wasserman said that Republicans outperformed the Biden-Trump margins in New Jersey’s legislative elections by a median 10.8 points. If that swing were repeated nationally next November, Democrats would lose 44 House seats. In Virginia, Reps outperformed by a median 12.3 points, and would gain 51 seats if repeated nationally.

The NJ and Virginia elections were high turnout. NY Times analyst Nate Cohn said that McAuliffe has 200,000 more votes than Dem Northam in 2017, who won by 8.9 points, while Murphy is matching his 2017 tally with many votes outstanding; he won by 14 points in 2017. High Republican turnout and vote switching from Democrats to Republicans caused these results.

CNN analyst Harry Enten said that in Virginia exit polls, Biden had a 54-45 disapproval rating, and Trump a 54-42 unfavourable rating. Those who approved of Biden were almost all for McAuliffe, and those who favoured Trump were almost all for Youngkin. The crucial bloc was the 16% who disapproved of Biden and had an unfavourable view of Trump. They voted for Youngkin by 68-32. Now that Biden is president, running against Trump is no longer good enough for Democrats.

In the 2020 Virginia exit poll, Biden won whites with a university degree (33% of sample) 52-45, while Trump won non-uni whites (34% of sample) by 62-38, with Biden dominating with over 75% among voters of color. In 2021, Youngkin won non-uni whites by a crushing 76-24, with McAuliffe holding up with uni-educated whites, winning by 52-47, and dominating voters of color with over 75% though they made up a lower proportion of the electorate.

The implications of this blowout in the non-uni white vote towards Republicans is frightening for Democrats. In 2020, Biden won by holding steady with non-uni whites vs the 2016 election and gaining with uni educated whites. If non-uni whites nationally start voting like those in deep southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, Democrats are in massive trouble.

Live Commentary

1pm Friday With over 95% reporting in NJ, Dem Murphy leads Rep Ciattarelli by 50.8-48.5 for governor. In the state Senate, Dems lead by 23-15 with two undecided – one Dem lead and one Rep. In the House, it’s 43-28 Dem with nine undecided – six Rep leads and three Dem. So the Senate outcome is likely to be 24-16 Dem, a one-seat gain for Reps, and the House outcome 46-34, a six-seat gain.

The big boilover in NJ’s legislature was Dem Senate pres Sweeney losing his seat to a truck driver who spent less than $US 200 on his campaign. Sweeney was a moderate who had dealt with former Rep governor Christie and obstructed some of Murphy’s agenda.

11:10am NJ Governor CALLED for Dem Murphy, who now leads by 50.0-49.2 with 90% in.

7:32am Thursday In some good news for Democrats, Murphy now leads in NJ by 50.0-49.3 with 89% in. Dems still look likely to win the state Senate by 23-17. Late counting in NJ can take weeks.

In Virginia, Reps will have a statewide sweep of elected offices, not just of governor, but also lieutenant governor and attorney general. And they’ve gained another state House seat for a 52-48 win, a seven seat gain. The only good news for Dems is that the state Senate, which they control by 21-19, was not up for election this year.

I will have analysis of these results later today.

8:10pm With 88% reported in NJ, Ciattarelli leads by just over 1,200 votes (0.05%). Murphy is expected to pull ahead as the Dem counties report their final votes. In the NJ legislature, Dems currently lead by 23-17 in the Senate. With two House members to be elected per Senate district, the House is likely to be roughly proportional to the Senate result.

5:18pm With all seats called in Virginia’s state House, Reps will have a 51-49 majority, a six seat gain for them.

5:08pm Ciattarelli now leads by under 600 votes in NJ. I’ve looked at the counties, and the Dem-friendly ones appear to have more votes left than Rep ones. On that basis, Murphy should win.

4:58pm In the 2017 Virginia governor contest, a bit over 2.6 million votes were cast. This year, over 3.2 million votes have been counted between the Dem and Rep candidates. This was a high turnout election in a Biden +10 state, and the Reps still won.

4:52pm With 84% reporting in NJ, Dem Murphy pulls into a near-tie with Rep Ciattarelli, with both on 49.6%. Ciattarelli leads by about 2,000 votes.

4:22pm In Virginia’s state House, one seat has flipped in late counting, so Reps now lead by 51-48 with one undecided, a six-seat gain for Reps. In NJ, Rep Ciattarelli leads Dem Murphy by 50.1-49.1 with 81% in.

3:54pm In Ohio’s 15th, Rep Carey’s lead narrows to 16.6%,, only just above Trump’s 14% margin. CNN has called Virginia governor for Youngkin, and Virginia’s state House is likely to be 50-50, a five seat gain for Reps. In New York City, Dem Adams wins by 66-29 with 85% in.

3:47pm With 78% reporting in NJ, Rep Ciatarelli leads Dem Murphy by 50.2-49.0. Commentators on Twitter are saying there’s no public info on how much vote by mail votes etc are left outstanding in each county, so hard to project anything.

2:35pm With almost all votes counted in Ohio, Dem Brown wins the 11th by 57.6%, down only slightly from Biden’s 60% margin. And in the 15th, Rep Carey wins by 20%, up from Trump’s 14% margin.

2:29pm Murphy coming back in NJ, trailing now by 49.1-50.1 with 71% in.

2:27pm Reps now lead by 44-28 in Virginia’s state House, a four seat gain for them. According to Wasserman, it’s likely to finish at a 50-50 tie, a five seat gain for Reps.

2:11pm Ciattarelli still leading NJ governor by 51.7-47.5 with 61% in. In Virginia, Reps now have a 42-26 lead over Dems in the state House, with 32 undecided. That’s a gain of three seats so far for Reps. Youngkin’s lead over McAuliffe narrows to 51.0-48.3 with 95% in.

1:30pm Rep Ciattarelli is now leading Dem Murphy in NJ Governor by 51.7-47.5 with 51% in. No NJ poll had Murphy losing.

1:00pm In NJ, Dem Murphy now trailing by 49.9-49.3 with 38% in. Would be a complete shocker for Dems if that holds. Better news in Ohio, where Dems are only two points off the 2020 results in both the 11th and 15th with most in. Dem Eric Adams easily wins NYC mayor.

12:25pm And New Jersey suddenly narrows to just a 52.6-46.6 lead for Dem Murphy with 22% reporting.

12:15pm With 18% reporting in New Jersey, Dem Murphy leads by 55.9-43.2.

12:11pm Carey now up to a 57.8-42.2 margin in Ohio’s 15th, ahead of Trump by 1.5% with 71% in.

12:02pm With an estimated 58% in in Ohio’s 15th, Rep Carey leads Dem Russo by 55.9-44.1. That’s a bit under Trump’s 14-point margin, but there’s still more election day to report.

11:56am In New Jersey, Dem Murphy leads by 60.3-38.8 with 10% reporting. That’s mostly early votes, and election day will narrow the margin.

11:36am Wasserman has CALLED it. Rep Youngkin defeats Dem McAuliffe for Virginia governor. That’s a Republican GAIN.

11:32am Republicans are currently leading in 17 Dem-held seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, compared with one Dem lead in a Rep-held seat. This is getting UGLY for Democrats.

11:25am Youngkin leads by 55.3-44.0 with 47% in. Dave Wasserman has been tweeting final county result that show Youngkin doing better than what he needs.

11:13am With 42% in in Ohio’s 15th, Rep Carey leads by 54.1-45.9. His lead should increase further as more election day votes are counted. The Ohio 11th has been called for Dem Brown with an 82-18 lead, but election day votes are likely to reduce that margin.

11:07am With 41% in, Youngkin leads by 55.7-43.6. Nate Cohn is getting more confident that Youngkin will win by about 2%.

10:52am In Ohio’s 15th, Republican Carey leads Dem Russo by 51.2-48.8 with 22% in. That’s probably early votes, and election day votes can be expected to be far more Rep-favouring.

10:48am 26% in, and Youngkin leads by 52.0-47.3.

10:43am Youngkin leads by 54.7-44.6 with 14% in. New York Times analyst Nate Cohn thinks Youngkin is doing well enough to win.

10:33am With an estimated 8% in, Youngkin leads by 51.9-47.5.

10:27am Some Dem votes have reported, and Youngkin leads by 53-46 with an estimated 5% in.

10:23am Wednesday Early results for Virginia governor have Republican Youngkin leading Democrat McAuliffe by 68-31. Exit polls suggest a narrow lead for Youngkin.

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.

Contests for governor of Virginia and New Jersey will be held today, as well as two federal by-elections in Ohio. Polls close at 10am AEDT in Virginia, 10:30am in Ohio and 11am in New Jersey.

The final FiveThirtyEight aggregate in Virginia gives Republican Youngkin a 47.9-47.0 lead over Democrat McAuliffe (McAuliffe by 0.1 last Friday). Joe Biden won Virginia by ten points at the 2020 election, so any loss would be demoralising for Democrats, and a narrow win hardly something to celebrate.

Four late polls in New Jersey give Democrat incumbent Murphy four to nine point leads, but Biden won NJ by 16 points, so this polling is still consistent with a sizeable swing to Republicans.

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. A mid-October poll in the 15th gave the Republican an 11-point lead.

Biden’s ratings are currently at 50.7% disapprove, 42.9% approve in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate (net -7.8), a further 0.5-point slide on net approval since Friday. Biden’s ratings are making it difficult for Democrats, and they’ll need his ratings to be in positive net approval to have a realistic chance to hold the House and Senate at the 2022 midterm elections.

I thought Virginia would skew Republican in early results as low population counties reported first. However, a comment by ChrisC on Friday’s article says that Virginia has made changes to how early votes are processed, and that we should have results from early votes soon after polls close in the whole state. This will skew the first votes counted to Democrats. In 2020, election day votes were very pro-Trump, and we will need to see complete results for counties before drawing conclusions.

Japanese election: landslide for the LDP

At Sunday’s Japanese election, the conservative LDP won 261 of the 465 lower house seats (down 23 since the 2017 election, but well over the 233 required for a majority). The LDP’s Komeito allies won 32 (up three), the centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) 96 (up 41) and the populist right Nippon 41 (up 30).

The LDP dominated the first-past-the-post seats, winning 189 of 289 with 57 for the CDP, on vote shares of 48.1% to 30.0%. The LDP has only been out of government for two brief periods since 1955.

US off-year elections minus five days

Will Biden’s ratings slide damage Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey? Also featured: gerrymandering latest and Sunday’s election in Japan.

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.

Elections for governors of Virginia and New Jersey, and two federal House by-elections, both in Ohio, will be held next Wednesday AEDT. Polls close at 10am AEDT in Virginia, 10:30am in Ohio and 11am in New Jersey. If 2020 vote counting patterns are repeated, I would expect early results in Virginia to favour Republicans, but in Ohio to favour Democrats.

I believe there will also be legislative elections in Kentucky and Mississippi, and local government elections. The highest profile of these is for New York City mayor, which Democrat Eric Adams is set to win after narrowly winning the Democratic primary earlier this year.

Joe Biden’s ratings continue to slide. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, he’s now at 51.0% disapprove, 43.7% approve (net -7.3); his net approval has dropped a further 2.3 points since my last article, two weeks ago.

Economic concerns explain Biden’s current problems, with headline inflation up 5.4% in the year to September. In the September quarter, US GDP grew at an annualized 2.0% (0.5% in quarter on quarter terms), disappointing analysts who expected higher growth. The economy was up 6.7% annualized in the June quarter.

In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of Virginia polls, Democrat McAuliffe leads Republican Youngkin by just 0.1%, down from 2.5% last fortnight. A Fox News poll out Friday AEDT had Youngkin leading by eight points; while Fox News is very right-wing, its polls are well regarded. Biden won Virginia by ten points in 2020. In New Jersey, four recent polls gave Democratic incumbent Murphy a four to 11 point lead (Biden by 16 in 2020).

Democrats have been unable to make progress in advancing either the bipartisan infrastructure bill or the Democratic infrastructure bill through Congress. It is not likely that either of these infrastructure bills can pass before next Wednesday’s elections.

US gerrymandering: there are no good guys

Every ten years, a US Census is conducted, and maps for US House seats are based on the Census. But the US has no national body like Australia’s AEC to draw boundaries. While some states, notably California, have an independent commission, most states allow politicians to draw boundaries.

If one party has control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor, they can gerrymander away, though occasionally courts will intervene. Seats must have equal numbers of people, but can have ugly maps.

In comments to my last article, I posted a proposed Democratic gerrymander of Illinois that would create a 14-3 Democratic split of Illinois’ House seats (13-5 previously with Illinois losing a seat).

2020 and 2010 were both Census years. Republicans’ big victories at the 2010 midterms gave them full control of many populous states, and enabled them to draw maps that allowed them to comfortably retain the House in 2012 despite Democrats winning the popular vote that year by 1.2% (see my 2012 report for The Green Papers).

But Democrats are no innocents. Republican control of the New York state senate in 2010 kept Democrats from gerrymandering NY, but Democrats won the state senate in 2018, and are likely to aggressively gerrymander NY for a far more lopsided split than the current 19-8. Democrats would love to gerrymander California (currently 42-11), and I have seen comments that suggest they could wipe out Republicans with a gerrymander. But California has used a nonpartisan commission since 2010.

Democrats justify their gerrymanders by arguing that Republicans do it too, and that unilateral disarmament would cost them seats. But by continuing to gerrymander, Democrats undermine the case for electoral reform.

Japanese election on Sunday

Japan’s elections have been boring, as the conservative LDP and its Komeito allies have governed since 1955 with only two brief interruptions: 1993-94 and 2009-12. In 2017, the 465 total seats were elected using 289 first-past-the-post seats and 176 proportional seats. Polling for Sunday’s election indicates another easy win for the LDP. This is an election for the lower house only; upper house elections are held separately.

US off-year elections minus three weeks

November 2 elections in Virginia, New Jersey and two US House seats as Biden’s ratings fail to recover. And can Democrats pass their infrastructure agenda?

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.

California recall live; Canadian and German elections minus six to 11 days

Democrat Newsom set to defeat Recall – live commentary today. Conservatives fall back in Canada, and polls stable in Germany. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Live commentary

12pm Thursday: With all election day votes counted, No to Recall leads by 63.9-36.1. Late mail and provisional votes will be counted over the next four weeks. When everything is counted, Newsom is likely to exceed his 61.9-38.1 margin in 2018, but fall a little short of Biden’s 29-point California margin in 2020.

4pm As the election day vote comes in, Newsom’s lead is dropping slightly. But No to Recall still leads by 65.7-34.3 with an estimated 66% in. Remember that counting will continue for about four weeks after today.

1:50pm CNN finally CALLS it for No to Recall. In 2018, Newsom won the governor’s race against a Republican by 62-38. Can he exceed that margin? Polls did not have him far enough ahead.

1:42pm No to Recall leading by a massive 67.5-32.5 with nearly 8 million votes in. Margin likely to decrease a bit as election day votes come in, but 17% of election day votes are already in.

1:25pm Dave Wasserman has CALLED it for Newsom and is off to bed (it’s 11:25pm on the US East Coast).

1:17pm No winning by almost 70-30 after over 5 million counted.

1:13pm No to Recall winning by 64-36 with over 2.2 million votes in already.

1:07pm No immediate call, but the exit poll has a wide margin for No. The first results from San Diego have No leading by 60.6-39.4 from over 800,000 votes.

12:52pm Wednesday Polls close in eight minutes. There is an exit poll. If that exit poll shows No to Recall winning by about the same0 margin as in pre-election polls, the recall is likely to be called as soon as polls close.

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.

The final FiveThirtyEight aggregate for today’s California recall election shows Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom leading Recall by 15.8%, out from 10.1% last week and just 1.2% three weeks ago.

Newsom has been able to make this election a contest between him, and the likely winner of the replacement vote, radio shock jock Republican Larry Elder. With no prominent Democrats contesting the replacement vote, Newsom’s lead over Recall has rapidly increased in a Democratic stronghold.

Early mail votes will be released soon after polls close at 1pm AEST. Given the polling, it is likely that the election will be called for Newsom once we see these votes. Election day vote counting will go until the evening AEST. California keeps counting late mail and provisional votes for four weeks after election day.

The FiveThirtyEight aggregate of Joe Biden’s ratings has him at 49.2% disapprove, 45.9% approve (net -3.3); his net approval is up half a point since last week. Biden last week announced vaccine mandates to combat COVID. In a Morning Consult poll, voters supported requiring all employers with over 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly tests by a 58-36 margin.

People’s Party rise hurts Conservatives in Canada

The Canadian election is next Tuesday September 21 AEST. Canada uses first past the post to elect its 338 members of parliament.

In the CBC Poll Tracker, the Liberals have regained the lead with 31.9%, followed by the Conservatives on 31.3%, the NDP 19.4%, the Quebec Bloc 6.6%, the populist right People’s Party (PPC) 6.4%, and the Greens 3.3%. Last week, the Conservatives had 33.5% and the PPC 4.8%.

Under FPTP, small parties on the left and right spoil their better aligned major party’s chances. The Tracker has the Liberals seat lead over the Conservatives out to 151-122 from 140-133 last week, with 35 NDP and 29 Bloc.

Most of Canada uses staggered poll opening and closing times, in which polls in the trailing time zone open and close an hour earlier than those in the leading time zone. The exceptions are polls for seats in Atlantic Canada. Here are the Canadian poll closing times next Tuesday AEST:

By 9:30am, polls in the four small provinces of Atlantic Canada (32 of the 338 seats) are closed. Newfoundland (seven seats) closes 30 minutes earlier. At 11:30am, the large majority of polls close. At 12pm, all polls are closed in Canada, with British Columbia (42 seats) closing.

Polls relatively stable in Germany

The Politico poll aggregate for the September 26 German election has the centre-left SPD leading with 25%, followed by the conservative CDU/CSU on 21%, the Greens 16%, the pro-business FDP 12%, the far-right AfD 11% and the far-left Left 6%. The overall vote for left parties leads the overall right by 47-44 (48-44 last week).

I described the German electoral system in my previous article. Parties that either win at least 5% of the party vote or three of the 299 FPTP seats receive a proportional allocation of seats. The Left party is close to the 5% threshold in current polls, but won five FPTP seats in 2017. If they hold three of these seats, they will qualify for proportionality. It is unlikely that the SPD and the Greens will win enough seats on their own for a left majority, so this is crucial.

Conservative government ousted in Norway

At Monday’s Norwegian election, Labour won 48 of the 169 seats (down one since 2017), the Conservatives 36 (down nine), the agrarian Centre 28 (up nine), the right-wing Progress 21 (down six), the Socialist Left 13 (up two) and the Red eight (up seven). The Conservative PM conceded, and it is likely Labour will govern with support from the Centre and Socialists (89 seats for that combination exceeding the 85 needed for a majority).