by András ROSTOVÁNYI, Journalist
The Democratic Party dealt a blow to US President Donald Trump in the midterm elections. The opposition party took control of the House of Representatives, gaining almost 40 seats in the process. Yet the Democrats' success wasn't the knockout they hoped for. The governing Republican Party was also able to claim victory, because they extended their majority in the Senate.
For months, experts forecasted the so-called „Blue Wave” - named after the colour typically associated with the Democratic Party. Opposition parties tend to do better in the midterms, because it’s usually easier for them to mobilise their base. The polling also clearly favoured the Democrats. Despite a roaring US economy and remarkably low unemployment, most Americans felt that their country is not moving to the right direction.
In a campaign spearheaded by the still-popular Former US President Barack Obama, Democratic candidates had a clear strategy. While occasionally taking jabs at the unpopular President Trump, they didn’t focus on him. Rather, they concentrated on bread and butter issues like health care. They emphasised to voters that the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare) was under threat from Congressional Republicans. The reform extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans, but it was almost repealed last year, the efforts fell just one vote short in the Senate. Democrats argued that if Republicans keep their majority, they might succeed the next time.
Come Election Day, the party’s campaign seemed to pay off. There was an exceptionally high turnout – not seen in decades. Almost half of the voting-eligible population cast their ballots and according to exit polls, health care was the deciding factor for more than 40% of them. No wonder, that the predicted „Blue Wave” did come, thus handing the House to the Democrats.
The Senate, however was quite a different story, there the governing Republicans were able to make a splash. The Grand Old Party was always considered a strong favourite, because only third of the chamber were up for re-election, and the Election Map clearly favoured the GOP. Out of the 35 races, Republicans had to defend their seats only in nine, and they were able to compete for the rest.
The GOP at first campaigned with their economic success, saying that their tax cuts is the reason for the booming economy. However, they changed course in mid-September, turning instead to the divisive issue of immigration. Donald Trump fired up his supporters by ramping up his hostile rhetoric. The US President referred to groups of Central American asylum seekers as ’invaders’, while he also ordered soldiers to the border in anticipation of their arrival. He also announced plans to end birth right citizenship by executive order, which most law experts argue would be unconstitutional.
In the end fifth of the voters said that immigration was a deciding factor for them. Still, Republicans were able to add two seats to their existing Senate majority. Thus Donald Trump could claim a ’historic victory’, as there were only five other midterms in the last 100 years, where the President’s party made gains in the upper chamber of the Congress.
While both of the major parties say they triumphed, the fact that Democrats gained the control of the House will undoubtedly be more important in the next two-years. This gives them the ability to launch investigations into the Trump administration and veto power over his legislative plans. Although Democratic leaders vow to be constructive, it remains to be seen how the new balance of power will affect the United States. Will the deep polarisation of American politics widen or will the new Congress be able narrow divisions?