US Midterm Elections Could be ‘Stress Test’ for Global Democracy

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NEW DELHI — Analysts believe that the results of the November 8 US midterm elections could have “significant implications” for the Asia-Pacific region.

Were the Democrats to defend control of the House and the Senate, there would be continuity in the administration’s policy on Asia. Of course, there is internal debate even within the Democratic Party about its policy on Asia, but most lawmakers are reluctant to openly criticise their President’s foreign policy, writes Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations in Japan Times.

If the Democrats retained control of Congress, it would likely mean a continued ramping up of an assertive policy on China, both actually in the region and through US industrial policy, Kurlantzick writes.

As a result, the administration would most likely continue to ignore much of Southeast Asia, including the catastrophic civil war in Myanmar and the state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in general.

The US mid-term elections could also be a stress test for global democracy, DW reported.

Against this backdrop of intimidated poll workers and election deniers on many regional tickets, experts believe that whether US voters retain trust in the integrity of their elections will also have an impact on democracies around the world.

“The weight of the United States is enormous,” says Staffan Lindberg, a professor and the director of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gotheburg, which analyses global democracy levels, DW reported.

Its latest Democracy Report comes to the sobering conclusion that democracy worldwide has receded to 1989 levels.

While democracy is in decline, the proportion of people living in autocracies has jumped from 49 per cent to 70 per cent in the past decade alone, the report said.

Lindberg is convinced that whether US democracy stays strong during these midterm elections and beyond will act as a “signal” to autocrats around the world.

Financial services major, ING said in a research note that only three out of the last 22 mid-term elections (going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934) have seen the incumbent president’s party make gains in the House of Representatives (nine seats for Roosevelt in 1934, five seats for Clinton in 1998 and eight seats for George W. Bush in 2002).

The six-seat gain that the Republicans need to win control of the House has been achieved on 17 occasions since 1934 and in each of the last four mid-terms. The median loss of House seats for an incumbent’s party since 1934 has been 28.

In the Senate, the incumbent president’s party has gained seats on six occasions and lost seats 15 times with one no-change outcome since 1934. The median change in the past 21 occasions has been a loss of five seats. The Republicans need to pick up just one seat to control the Senate.

President Joe Biden is not on the ballot at the November 8 mid-term elections, but the outcome will determine how much he can achieve in the second half of his presidential term and how the government can respond to growing recession risks. It will also be an important barometer for the Republican Party and whether Donald Trump will run against Biden in 2024, ING said.

“Today we face what can be called ‘intermestic’ issues. When the results of the upcoming midterm elections become clear, certain things might change inside America, and those changes will impact how America is both viewed around the world and affected by global affairs,” Tara D. Sonenshine wrote in The Hill. Sonenshine is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice in public diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Take, for example, the war in Ukraine. Already we are seeing partisan divides emerge within the US electorate on the Biden administration’s approach to Russia and Ukraine, Sonenshine added.

A strong midterm showing for Trump supporters could reinvigorate the “America First” approach that the former president articulated.

Congress has a strong voice when it comes to war powers, meaning that the makeup of the House and Senate way determine how much support there is for responding to Russian moves, including the use of a so-called “dirty bomb” in Ukraine or the use of tactical nuclear weapons. How the US and NATO respond to any escalation of the war will include how Congress and the executive branch interpret the meaning of “war”, the article said.

China is another area where Congress has a voice. To date there has been some bipartisan agreement on US-China policy, resulting in the CHIPS and Science Act and the infrastructure law – both of which seek to bolster US competition against China in things like semiconductors.

But a new Congress could reveal differences within the parties on areas like Taiwan or America’s posture in Asia, Sonenshine asserted.

Congressional spending on everything from Covid vaccination in the developing world to sanctions on Russia can change America’s economy. A Republican midterm victory in both the Senate and the House would have ripple effects for Europe and NATO just as the war is intensifying.

Lastly, there are moral questions at stake in this election. The US is judged around much of the world as a beacon of democracy. But that perception is under threat. The midterms will signal what Americans value, sending a message about the national narrative and priorities – whether democracy is a theory or a practice and whether America can still claim ownership of it, Sonenshine added. — IANS

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