Will Democrats' legislative wins help them in midterm polls?

Campaigning messages all about advances for climate change, health care and economy, but some are sceptical of impact

A sign in Wilson, Wyoming, on August 16, as the state holds its Republican primary election.  AFP
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History would tell US Democrats to brace for losses in midterm elections, but the majority party is riding high on a recent wave of legislative success.

Between massive healthcare and climate reform with the Inflation Reduction Act, expansion of veteran's protection with the Pact Act, and science and tech-focused Chips Act, the Democrats are banking on Americans responding with more "blue" votes.

"We have a message for the American people. The Republicans have a message of no, of opposition, of disruption," House majority leader Steny Hoyer said last week.

"I think there's going to be a very substantial assist to our candidates, to the President and to the American people."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by Democrats, is applauded after signing the Inflation Reduction Act. AP

"[Former president Donald] Trump and the Republicans have labelled us the 'do-nothing Democrats'," Alyssa Batchelor, director of political research for a Democratic company, told The National.

"And this summer, we have really shown that we're the 'do-something Democrats'.

"And I think that that will show and that will reflect in the midterms."

Democratic leadership quickly pushed the party to create sharp messages around the legislative wave.

In a memo to Congressional Democrats obtained by The National, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged party members to use their recent district working weeks to emphasise the Inflation Reduction Act to constituents.

Kyle Kondik is the managing editor of University of Virginia Centre for Politics’ non-partisan newsletter on American campaigns and elections.

Mr Kondik told The National that there was little evidence to suggest voters would be swayed in Democratic favour based on legislative victories.

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"Generally speaking, the passage of major legislation does not provide a major political boost to the party in power," he said.

"It can take years for the legislation to actually impact people’s lives and by then, it may be hard to connect the legislation to those who passed it."

But Republicans have insisted Americans will respond to the expansive legislative cycle at the polls, with rejection.

"I trust the American people. I know it is the people who will render the ultimate verdict on today’s actions," minority leader Kevin McCarthy said before the House passed the Inflation Reduction Act.

"And when they do, 87 days from now, my Democrat colleagues will have only themselves to blame."

Republicans have given record inflation, soaring gas prices and the chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as key reasons that could encourage Americans to vote "red".

On recent legislation, they have particularly emphasised the Inflation Reduction Act's billions-dollar emboldening of the US Internal Revenue Service and have intensified anti-government spending messages.

Republican candidates in highly competitive districts, such as Virginia's seventh candidate Yesli Vega — who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep Abigail Spanberger — quickly pounced on President Joe Biden's spending bill.

"Republicans may be able to make some headway with attacks about the money going to the Internal Revenue Service, given that the IRS is hardly a popular agency," Mr Kondik said.

But he said that Democrats could gain a slight boost with the US Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v Wade, with some emerging data supporting this theory.

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In Kansas, which just voted whether to protect state abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruling, data from analytics group TargetSmart showed that 70 per cent of newly registered voters are women.

Data also showed that among Kansans who registered to vote on or after June 24, Democrats have an eight-point advantage.

Ms Batchelor acknowledged scepticism but insisted that in key races the sweeping reforms could make all the difference.

"It will come down to how quickly Americans are seeing the results," she said.

"But if they feel positive and optimistic that this could be a sign of turning the tide, we may be able to win back some of those seats that are in jeopardy and flip some of those seats that are on the margins."

As for voter response to actual legislation, Mr Kondik remained dubious of any meaningful effect.

"I think with everything else going on, there’s probably not going to be much impact either way," he said.

There are only seven primaries left in the US, the most notable occurring in Florida, New York, Massachusetts and Delaware, and voters go to the polls on November 8.

Congress by the numbers

The US Senate is effectively evenly split between the parties, with 48 Democrats, two left-leaning independents and 50 Republicans.

Fourteen Democratic seats and 21 Republican seats are up for grabs in the midterms.

Of those seats, only nine are considered solidly set for Democrats, and 16 are considered solidly for Republicans. That leaves 10 competitive races that could flip the Senate from blue to red in 2022.

The House, also controlled by the Democrats, has 34 races that are considered "toss-ups", which could turn either way, with many more races considered competitive.

Control of the US House and Senate could flip from Democrats to Republicans in midterm elections.

Source: Cook Political Report
Updated: August 21, 2022, 11:31 PM