Why the blue wave became just a splash
Despite controversies of America’s divisive issues and the president in lead-up to the 2018 midterms, its results were not unexpected
The 2018 congressional midterm elections shattered all turnout records for midterms, as an estimated 114 million Americans voted, and drew global attention comparable to most presidential campaigns.
The days before the election were punctuated by letter bombs targeting high-profile opponents of the president and the deadly attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in American history.
Given all this, perhaps the strangest thing about these midterm elections is how normal they were – at least with regards to the results.
For many Democrats this midterm was, at its heart, a battle for American democracy.
Republicans campaigned on the idea that Democratic victory would lead to socialism, or at least a devastating recession.
Over all of this loomed the personality, tweets and rallies of President Donald Trump.
The impact of Tuesday’s election will be far-reaching.
The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will be able to block proposed legislation before it can get to the Republican-controlled Senate, meaning that Mr Trump is no longer free of constraints in Washington and that conservative bills have little, if any, chance of becoming law.
There’s also a very real possibility that the House could vote to impeach Mr Trump after the conclusion of the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference or over possible business conflicts of interest.
The Republican majority in the Senate won’t vote to convict him, but a House impeachment could still be a political blow.
In addition, Mr Trump’s reelection campaign has unofficially begun and well over a dozen Democratic candidates could emerge as strong contenders to oppose him.
Nonetheless, these unpredictable times still gave rise to predictable results.
The Democrats were clear winners on Nov 6, as the party that does not control the presidency has been in almost every midterm election since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House in 1934. (Exceptions were in 1998 and 2002.)
However, the blue wave that many Democratic activists were hoping for never came.
The Democrats will pick up around 30 seats in the House and probably lose only two or three Senate seats in the face of a very tough map, but this hardly constitutes a wave.
The reason for that was the economy: The blue wave crashed on to the shores of the strong economy and the result could be called the blue splash.
Earlier midterms that drew much less attention and were not dominated by a president who revelled in confrontational and divisive rhetoric have had similar results.
This ordinary outcome to an election that was anything but highlights a contradiction between an American polity that seems to be in flux and voting habits and outcomes that do not always reflect that.
The Republican Party is transitioning from a traditional conservative party to a populist one while the Democratic Party is finding new support in once solidly suburban communities.
A president who has broken numerous norms of American democracy and whose personality and behaviour has dominated the media for more than three years found that at election time, the fate of his party, like that of almost all presidents, was determined by an important, but relatively mundane issue: The state of the economy.
It is also apparent that for many if not most Americans, partisanship is still the main driver of their vote.
This midterm result shows that both sides can mobilise their voters and that despite this time of intense turmoil, longstanding truisms of American politics – or at least some of them – still apply. – REUTERS