The US midterm elections are being billed as a referendum on Trump, but it’s not that simple



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Much is hanging on the outcome of the US mid-term elections – and much of it is unpredictable.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation , CC BY-ND

Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

From afar, the US midterm elections might seem to be all about Donald Trump, and there is some truth to this. The man, as has been the case for some years now, is unavoidable.

More than 700 days after the host of The Apprentice was elected to lead the world’s largest military and economic power, this will be the first chance for Americans to express buyer’s remorse at the ballot box by potentially giving the Democrats control of the House (and less likely the Senate) in order to rein in the president.

Trump himself is not up for re-election, though. Voters will be making decisions about local and state representatives, so it would be a mistake to presume the outcome will be entirely dependent on questions of federal leadership.




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However, Democrat Tip O’Neill’s famous claim that “all politics is local” is not entirely true here; this election has local, national and international implications.

This is why, once again, non-Americans are taking such an interest in an American election. Many believe that Trump and his Republican Party represent much of what endangers the world.

Who is up for election?

Members of the US House of Representatives serve two-year terms, and senators six-year terms. This means that all 435 members of the House and 35 out of 100 senators (33 plus two empty seats due to resignations) are up for re-election on November 6.

Due to the Democrats’ success in the 2012 election, just nine of those 35 Senate seats are Republican-controlled. So the Democrats’ chance of taking the Senate is slim – around 1-in-7, according to FiveThirtyEight.com – despite the fact Republicans currently hold only a narrow 51-49 majority.

For those outside the US, this may seem remarkable, given the profoundly unethical decisions enacted by the Trump administration, and the parade of misogyny that surrounded Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court.

And yet, there are a number of plausible scenarios in which the minority party could actually lose ground.




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To forge a path to victory in the Senate, Democrats will need to retain seats in states that Trump won easily in 2016 – North Dakota, Montana and Missouri – as well as in Florida, where incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson faces a tough race against multimillionaire Republican Governor Rick Scott.

They’ll also need to pick up a seat or two in the traditionally Republican states of Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi (listed in order of likelihood). The fact that Mississippi and Tennessee are even in play for the Democrats is noteworthy because Trump won both in 2016 by over 15 percentage points.

But given the circumstances, the Democrats remain unlikely to win a Senate majority.

A Democratic victory in the House is far more probable, with FiveThirtyEight.com giving the minority party a 6-in-7 chance to take back control.

Because all House seats are up for grabs, this is the contest that many will view as a national referendum on the Trump administration. And the results will be shaped by voter turnout.

Typically, turnout for midterm elections is older and whiter than it is for presidential elections, and this is a demographic that favours Republicans. The Republicans have maintained or taken control of the House in every midterm election since 1994, with the exception of 2006, when President George W. Bush’s popularity had plummeted to the mid-30s due to his mishandling of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

According to recent polling averages, Trump’s approval rating has been hovering at just over 40%.

Why is gerrymandering significant?

This election is consequential for far more than the future of the Trump administration. Republican victories in state legislatures and governors’ races, which occur alongside the national election, will provide another opportunity for the party to consolidate its power through gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the underhanded process whereby elected politicians redraw federal and state electorate boundaries to group voters by demographics and improve their chances of success at the ballot box.

These lines are redrawn every 10 years, following a nationwide census. The next census is in 2020, so the lines will next be redrawn in 2021. This year’s midterm election is therefore crucial in determining which party will control each state during the upcoming redistricting process.

Gerrymandering tends to be a tactic of Republicans, who currently hold the majority of seats in 32 of America’s 50 state houses. Furthermore, the task of gerrymandering is more straightforward for Republicans, as Democratic voters are typically packed together in urban centres, while Republicans are usually spread out across states.

In a number of states, Republicans have engineered things so Democrats are sure to win just a few seats with massive majorities, while Republicans are favoured to capture far more by closer margins, for instance a 55% to 45% majority.

However, there is a catch. In a wave election, as this one may well be, those Republicans who would normally expect to get elected with 55% of the vote could be vulnerable. This may occur in this year’s House races in North Carolina.

What is the effect of voter suppression?

Further impeding the Democrats’ chances is the systematic and widespread strategy of voter suppression, which is typically utilised by Republicans to prevent likely Democrat voters, such as African Americans, from voting.

One particularly alarming example has been happening in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is attempting to become the country’s first female African American governor.

Her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, also happens to be Georgia’s secretary of state. His office had been strictly enforcing a new law known as “exact match”, under which voter-registration applications are dismissed for absurdly minor discrepancies, such as missing hyphens or slightly mismatched signatures.




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A judge recently halted this practice, but over 53,000 registration applications have already been suspended. African Americans comprise 32% of the state’s population and nearly 70% of the rejected applications.

This kind of behaviour is not confined to a few rogue states. Other methods of voter suppression, such as felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws and reductions in the number of polling booths in African American communities, are routinely used across the country to disproportionately target minority voters.

Even the fact that voting takes place on a Tuesday, rather than a weekend, marginalises people who cannot get off work. These people are likely to be poorer and less likely to be white.

Will Trump be impeached?

As was proven on the evening of November 8, 2016, while polls can show likelihoods, nothing is guaranteed. However, the polls currently suggest that the most likely outcome of these midterms is a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

What this would mean for Trump is more frustration. The Democrats would be able to investigate the president’s questionable financial deals, potential fraud related to Trump University and possible links to Russian interference in the 2016 election. They could also push for the release of Trump’s much sought-after tax returns.

It seems likely the House will find grounds to impeach Trump. But, hold your breath – that would be only step one of a lengthy process.

Dismissal of a president requires 67 of 100 Senate votes, a threshold that makes such an event unlikely. Given the president’s propensity for mendacity, it will be intriguing to see whether he is able to avoid any perjury charges that might arise from Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. But again, such charges are unlikely to lead to his removal from office.

Yet who can say? Whatever the outcome on November 6, there is much about the future of US politics – and the global ramifications – that remains entirely unpredictable.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, PhD Student in English, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Arming teachers will only make US school shootings worse



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US President Donald Trump talks to high school students about safety on campus following the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida school.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

On February 14, in Parkland, Florida, 17 teachers and students were shot dead at their school by an estranged student armed with a high-powered, military-style rifle. Mass shootings at places of learning in the US are, sadly, not uncommon.

On this occasion, however, the backlash against the political establishment has been more fearsome than usual. Significantly, the target is the gun culture of the country itself.

Notwithstanding, US President Donald Trump has come up with a plan to tackle the crisis. He wants to arm and train thousands of teachers to carry firearms in schools.

Let’s examine the evidence for the efficacy of such an idea.




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The Trump plan is not a new one. Many US state legislatures have modified their gun control laws or softened regulations, now allowing holders of “concealed carry” permits to take their firearms into a wide range of public places including bars, churches, and government buildings.

Some state laws allow schools to permit teaching staff to carry weapons on campus. In June 2015, Texan lawmakers passed a bill giving not only faculty members but even students at public and private universities in that state a right to apply for a permit to carry concealed handguns into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings.

It should be mentioned also that Donald Trump is a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association, the powerful US-based lobby group committed to the idea that a citizen has a right to bear arms. The thinking of this group is that the “good guy” with the gun will deter, kill or maim the “bad guy” (the would-be shooter) before he can unleash his lethal mayhem.

Is there any evidence that the Trump approach is workable? No, not a skerrick.

The evidence continues to mount against guns as a form of urban crime prevention strategy, and for the proposition that a greater proliferation of guns actually increases the likelihood of urban violence.

Researchers in 2010 found that gun availability positively influenced the rates of several violent crimes in a sample of cities across 39 countries. Further research reviewed data for 27 developed countries and concluded that the number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related deaths.

Significantly, van Kesteren concludes:

In high-gun countries, the risks of escalation to more serious and lethal violence are higher. On balance, considerably more serious crimes of violence are committed in such countries. For this reason, the strict gun-reduction policies of many governments seem to be a sensible means to advance the common good.

I do not know of one serious crime prevention advocate in the developed world who would suggest that children are safer in a school because of firearms in their teachers’ hands.

Leaving aside the possibility of theft of a gun, its misuse or an accident, it would be fanciful to suggest that teachers could be trained to make split-second determinations of who is a “bad guy” and who is a “good guy”. Even the most highly specialised armed forces units get that wrong sometimes.

And let’s not forget the cost of the plan. Trump needs to multiply the price of the weapons plus the costs of training by the number of teachers who volunteer to take on this task in the 100,000 educational institutions in the US today.

The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide and gun injury rates is convincing. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate. Its gun homicide rate is more than ten times the Australian rate.

Of all US homicides, 60% are committed by firearms. The equivalent figure in Australia (2010–12) is 14%.

The only ways to stop or reduce the likelihood of a school shooting is, first, to take seriously the role of the state in enacting laws to make firearm ownership an earned privilege and not a right, and second, to remove from public hands altogether, as Australia has done, automatic, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. They are simply not needed in any 21st-century urban setting.

Are either of these things about to happen in the US? Not in my lifetime, nor in my children’s lifetimes.




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Estimates in 2009 were that there were more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US. This figure would be significantly higher today, although one of the problems is that it is not known exactly how many people own how many guns.

They are not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. And if the deaths of 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six staff members, at Sandy Hook elementary school in December 2012 cannot re-direct the political wind, then nothing will – not even the cries of pain outside of the White House from families from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Will more mass shootings occur in US schools and on college campuses in the years to come? Most certainly, with or without the implementation of Trump’s latest suggestion. Indeed, the situation is likely to get worse.

The ConversationUnless something radically changes some time soon, Americans just have to live with the inevitable.

Rick Sarre, Adjunct Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days



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Before the government shutdown, Donald Trump exceeded a 40% approval rating for the first time since May 2017.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On January 20, 2018, exactly one year after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, the US government entered a partial shutdown for three days – the first shutdown since 2013. This is the second shutdown that has occurred when the same party controlled the presidency and both chambers of Congress; one agency was shut down for one day in 1980.

While Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, it usually takes three-fifths of the Senate (60 votes) to invoke cloture and prevent filibustering of legislation. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have a 238-193 majority, and a bill that funded the government passed 230-197.

In the Senate, the same bill won the vote 50-49, but was short of the 60 votes needed for cloture. Five Democrats, all representing states Trump won by at least 18 points in 2016, voted in favour of this bill, and five Republicans voted against, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “no” vote was technical, to allow him to reintroduce the same bill.

The reason Democrats denied supply was a dispute over “Dreamers” – children who came to the US illegally. Under President Barack Obama, the approximately 800,000 Dreamers were eligible for renewable two-year non-deportation periods, and work permits. Trump rescinded this program in September 2017, but Congress was given until March 2018 to legislate an alternative.

Four months since Trump’s rescission, no legislation on Dreamers has been voted on by either chamber. On January 11, Trump reportedly said “shithole countries” in reference to immigrants from Haiti and some African countries. Democrats clearly believe Trump and Republican congressional leaders will do nothing to stop the Dreamers being deported, so they blocked Supply to try to force action.

On 22 January, the shutdown ended with Democratic support after McConnell promised the Senate would vote on action for the Dreamers. However, the government’s funding expires on February 8. If McConnell fails to honour his promise, it is likely there will be another US government shutdown.

The funding bill agreed to also funded the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years – a key Democratic priority.

Even if a bill that stopped the deportation of Dreamers passed the Senate, the House of Representatives is more difficult, as there is a large bloc of hard-right Republicans who would detest leaders bringing any pro-Dreamer legislation to a vote. Trump can veto legislation, and it requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override his veto.

The strong US economy has improved Trump’s ratings in the last month. According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings were 36.4% approve, 57.5% disapprove on December 16, but they are now at 39.1% approve, 55.9% disapprove.

Before the shutdown, Trump exceeded 40% approval for the first time since May 2017.

The strong US economy also appears to be helping Republicans in the race for Congress. A month ago, Democrats led Republicans by 50-37, but that advantage has shrunk to 46-39 in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate.

Republicans may also be benefiting from a lack of media focus on the controversial bills they had passed or attempted to pass, such as the corporate tax cuts or Obamacare repeal.

The shutdown was not long enough to have a large impact on Trump’s ratings or the race for Congress. According to FiveThirtyEight analyst Harry Enten, the previous two long shutdowns – in 1995-96 and 2013 – had a large negative short-term impact on the Republicans, who were blamed for both. However, once the shutdowns were resolved, voters quickly forgot about the disruption.

Midterm elections will be held this November, in which all 435 House of Representatives members and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election.

Owing to natural clustering of Democrats in cities and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need a high single-figure lead on the popular vote to take control of the House of Representatives. A seven-point lead for Democrats would give Republicans some chance of retaining control.

Commissioned Tasmanian polls stronger for Liberals than December EMRS

The Tasmanian election is expected to be called soon for either March 3 or 17. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system for its lower house, with five five-member electorates. A December EMRS poll gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 34% and the Greens 17%.

There has been no media-commissioned polling since this poll, but the Liberals released a MediaReach poll last week that gave them 41.1%, Labor 34.3%, the Greens 12.8% and the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 6.2%.

A ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute in the seat of Bass gave the Liberals 49.4%, Labor 27.6%, the Greens 10.5% and the JLN 10.1%.

MediaReach has previously only taken polls in the Northern Territory, so it does not have a track record. ReachTEL’s Tasmanian polls were biased against Labor at the last two federal elections, but the Liberals performed better than ReachTEL expected at the 2014 state election.

Essential 53-47 to federal Labor

The first federal poll of 2018, an Essential poll, was released last week. Labor led by 53-47, unchanged from the final Essential poll of 2017 five weeks ago.

Primary votes were 38% Labor (steady), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one). This poll was conducted on January 11-15 from a sample of 1,038.

According to the Poll Bludger, Essential will be a fortnightly poll this year. Previously, Essential polled weekly, with a rolling two-week sample used for voting intentions.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net approval was minus seven, down four points since December. Bill Shorten’s net approval slumped to minus 17, down eight points since December.

By 44-29, voters would support Australia becoming a republic with an Australian head of state (44-30 in January 2017). By 53-38, voters would support a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

More than 50% thought all types of crime had increased in the last few years, including 70% who thought youth gang crime had increased, and 76% who thought drug-related crime had increased. 53% and 40% respectively thought drug crime and youth crime had increased a lot.

The ConversationI expect the first Newspoll of 2018 when federal parliament resumes in early February.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.