The recent midterm elections in the United States have confirmed what was expected: the Democrats lost, while the Republicans expanded their majority in the House and seized control of the Senate. Analysts attribute these results partially to the growing disapproval in the general American public of President Obama.
After the elections it is likely to become increasingly difficult for him to accomplish his agenda. Despite their majority in both the House and the Senate, the Republicans have to prove ready for compromise in order to prevent the President vetoing the bills passed. During a Transatlantic Luncheon Discussion, organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in cooperation with the Transatlantic Institute of the American Jewish Committee, experts from the U.S. discussed the outcome of the recent elections as well as the short and long-term consequences that will most likely ensue.
The discussion focussed on several core issues: possible steps that would have to be taken by both parties to allow for a successful legislative period, the question of success for President Obama’s remaining 2 years in office, and the general need for reform within both parties. In his opening remarks, George van Bergen, Senior Policy adviser at the Transatlantic Institute, stressed that the outcome of the elections will have a great influence on the relationship between the United States and the EU. It was therefore vital for European policy makers to understand the aftermath of the elections. Robert Moran, Polling Expert and Partner at Brunswick Group, gave a detailed analysis of the election outcome itself. He stressed how “poorly and wrong the media covered the election by not providing the accurate and necessary context for the public”. Despite it being describe as a “wave election” for the Republican Party, Moran emphasized that it was not at all an unusual result, considering past results in midterm elections during the second mandate of a president, be it a Democrat or a Republican. “It is more a feature of the American system rather than a bug”, he explained, that after 6 years into a President’s time in office, the turnout of the Midterm elections would generally swing toward the opposing party. Moran saw a possible further reason for the Democrat’s loss stemming from the fact that the average American is not benefiting from the gradual improvement of the economy.
Looking into his crystal ball, Moran identified four main challenges the Republic Party will have to face and overcome in order to maintain power. First, he claimed, the party needs to modernise and develop a much more optimistic programme for the 21st century, adapting itself to a changing context and society. They also need to stop resting on the laurels of the Reagan administration and focus on building the basis for a future Republican government. Third, Moran pointed out that the demographics are becoming increasingly diverse. The Latino population and the number of intermarriages between Latinos and white Americans are rising. The Republicans need to make an effort to appeal to a broader variety of demographic groups in the American society, rather than only to the “white American”. And fourth, Moran touched upon the growing generational divide with regard to social issues. According to him, younger Republican voters have a more liberal view. This leads to a change in focus; new topics, for example marriage equality, becoming much more of an issue that they used to.
Rick Weiland, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator for South Dakota in this year’s Midterm elections, shared his experience from his recent election campaign. He made a strong case to decrease the influence of big companies in politics and to “take back the country from those with big money”. With around $4 billion spent, the 2014 Midterm elections are said to be the most expensive elections in the history of the United States. Additionally to the campaign money traditionally raised by the candidates and their staff, a great amount of the funds came from newly emerging Super PACs, unions of big companies that give candidates “special interest money” attempting to influence politics in their favor. In his campaign, Weiland therefore called for limiting the influence of Super PACs on American politics and to give power back to the general public. Like Moran, Weiland stressed that most of the recent economic growth does not reach the American middle and lower classes, while “95% is going to the top 1% of the population”. Both speakers agreed in seeing great potential for both parties in the 2016 Presidential Elections, as well as urgent challenges that needed to be faced. In their view, the election outcome will depend on the compromises the Republicans and Democrats will have to make in the coming two years. Moran advised that despite their high motivation to “get things done”, Republicans should focus on a single issue, namely the economy, and not give in the temptation to pass as many bills possible.
In his closing remarks, Moran addressed the issue of the negotiations for a Free Trade agreement between the United States and the European Union (TTIP) in stating that Americans were generally not opposed to free trade. Especially the younger generation is more pro free trade. In order to make a successful argument for the agreement, Moran advised to focus on social aspects rather than the economic benefits. Nevertheless, he also cautioned that issues such as data protection, privacy, food and agriculture need to be addressed by both sides to avoid greater public discontent. (Maike Overmeyer, FNF Brussels)