Experts say the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent controversial court decisions surrounding abortion and gun control could be factors that will influence voters in the US midterm elections in November.
The US could be heading into a recession, after the Federal Reserve enacted its second consecutive 0.75 percentage point interest rate increase, warned economist James Hughes PhD, after the US Department of State issued its “U.S. 2022 Midterm Elections: Role of the Economy in Elections,” report.
“Current perception of the economy: storm clouds ahead, particularly since the inflation report,” said the expert.
The US economy is recovering from the hyper-speed economic plunge brought on by COVID-19, according to Hughes. Though the lockdown led to the loss of 22 million jobs across the US, between April 2020 and June 2022, total employment increased by 21.5 million jobs. In a little over two years, the US recovered 97.7% of the jobs lost during the recession.
Despite the powerful, robust labour market, the economist said that the US economy suffered substantial consumer dissatisfaction.
“Households appear to be the most depressed they have been since the University of Michigan began its consumer sentiment index in the 1950s. Essentially, consumers are saying that 2022 is the worst economy ever,” said Hughes, “and that economic metric is more consistent with consumer sentiment, and the danger is that sour consumer sentiment will cause a significant cut in consumer spending, which will bring on an economic slowdown and recession.”
The sentiment put even more pressure on the Fed, influencing its decision to raise the interest rate, in order to tame inflation, the expert explained.
The goal is to engineer a soft landing, a process of shifting the economy to slow growth while, simultaneously, avoiding a recession, as well as reducing inflation. Hughes, however, noted that the agency unfortunately does not have a good record in accomplishing this. “During the last five instances, when inflation peaked above 5%, the Fed’s subsequent interest rate increases caused a recession.”
With the midterm elections in less than four months, the economist said that it is his forecast that, around the election day, the US will either be in a recession or “if technically not in a recession, it will certainly feel like a recession.”
Another speaker at the press briefing, Ross Baker PhD, meanwhile, explained that midterm elections in US politics are an equivalent to a vote of no confidence in the Westminster system. American voters express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the president’s performance through the congressional vote, taking place midway through a president’s term, he said.
There have been only three occasions in American history, however, in which the president’s party did not lose seats in a midterm election, the political scientists said, “and some of these losses can be catastrophic,” said Baker.
Barack Obama, for example, was resoundingly elected in 2008, but in 2010 his party suffered record losses.
For the 2022 midterm election, Baker expects Democrat Joe Biden to do badly, highlighting the COVID-19 pandemic and the Supreme Court’s recent controversial decisions to be among the defining factors of the November results.
COVID-19, despite being an unprecedented situation occurring independent of any political decision, has complicated a lot of things.
Firstly, Baker said, it intensified political polarisation in the United States, associated with how to cope with this pandemic. Second, the pandemic caused supply chain disruption.
“Now none of this, of course, was the responsibility of either President Trump or President Biden, yet it affected both of them. So you have a situation in which you have a president really being held to account for problems, not just in the economy, but in society, that were not of their doing,” said the political scientist.
Other factors involved in the political climate, with which the American people will have to contend in the elections, include a series of decisions by the US Supreme Court, Baker added.
One of the decisions was to overturn the longstanding decision made by the Supreme Court in the early 1970s that made abortion legal in the US. Baker said that this specifically affects women.
“Female voters have always been the kind of golden key to the results of congressional elections in particular,” the expert explained, elaborating that suburban women, who tend to be well-educated and relatively prosperous and the kind of people who might be expected to vote Republican, are also very sensitive to having removed from them what they consider to be a fundamental right.
Another decision was made by the Supreme Court to broaden gun rights. Baker highlighted that this took place in the context of two very serious mass shootings, in which the perpetrators used semi-automatic rifles.
“So these Supreme Court decisions, of course, have had the effect of changing the ballgame in the midterm elections,” Baker said. “So really, it’s anybody’s guess. I mean, clearly history would favour substantial Republican gains, although the introduction of these other factors – particularly the Supreme Court decisions – makes that particular formula a little bit more complicated. The betting generally has been that the Republicans will pick up seats. The experts will say that the Republicans will still pick up seats, but they argue now that, perhaps, the number of Republican seats that will be won may be diminished as a result of these Supreme Court decisions.”