US midterm elections: The good, the bad and the ugly

👍 The Good: A surprising number in a divided nation

👎 The Bad: The polling nightmare continues

😡 The Ugly: A billion dollar battle remains

We have an updated picture of the American political landscape – and it seems a lot has changed.

Votes from the US midterm elections are still being counted, but it's clear the winds of change are blowing – at least in some parts of the country.

The Democrats, who hold the White House, were expected to lose both the lower house and the Senate but have done surprisingly well, and could hold onto the latter, while only suffering modest loses in the House of Representatives.

All in all, it was a good night for the Democrats, a great night for rising Republican star Ron DeSantis and a pretty miserable night for Donald Trump. Here's the good, the bad and the ugly from the 2022 US midterm elections.

A surprising number in a divided nation

American politics has become intensely partisan in recent years – a trend fuelled by Donald Trump and his combative approach. Speaking to reporters earlier in the week, Barack Obama lamented the hyper-partisan nature of politics and the US political media, telling reporters: "This habit we have of demonising political opponents, of saying crazy stuff, it creates a dangerous climate."

But there were still plenty of voters this week who were willing to vote for both Republican and Democrat candidates on the same ballot, but in different state races. The New York Times reported that about eight per cent of voters split their ticket.

"For decades, 'split-ticket voting' has been on the decline. As American politics became more polarised, fewer voters supported a Republican for one office and a Democrat for another office. But this trend now seems to be reversing," The Atlantic reported in its election wash-up, under the headline "How moderates won the midterms".

Part of that has been attributed to voters being turned off by the extremism of Trump-backed candidates.

US President Joe Biden was all smiles after the midterm elections
US President Joe Biden was all smiles after the midterm elections. Source: Reuters

"It certainly shows that not everybody is purely operating in terms of a political team sport," Associate Professor David Smith, from the United States Studies Centre, told Yahoo News Australia.

"There are people who are trying to make a balanced decision on which candidate to vote for."

For US politics, that's pretty darn good these days.

"This is not new, in 2020 we actually saw a lot of people vote for Biden as president and for Republicans in Congress," Prof Smith added.

Whatever the reason, the trend contributed to the Democrats holding on to more seats than predicted.

"With a narrow [lower] house majority, Republicans can’t do as much as if they had a big house majority," Prof Smith explained. "They would’ve been able to be a lot more aggressive ... It’s going to be a lot harder for them to push an antagonistic agenda against Biden."

The polling nightmare continues

Pollsters have had a difficult time of late. The results at these elections look more like what polls were showing a couple months ago. But in the weeks leading up to voting day, many pre-polls were showing a potential "red wave" that failed to materialise.

"I think it will take a long time for the reasons to come out," as to why the polls might've misrepresented voter intentions, Prof Smith said, pointing to the rise in partisan polling.

While he wasn't on the ballot this week, he also pointed to the difficulty Donald Trump has posed for polling companies. "Pollsters have had this real problem in the 2016 and 2020 elections of underestimating Republican support. So they were probably using models that were trying to compensate for previous failures. Now the problem with that might be, when they've underestimated Republican support in the past, what they've really been underestimating is Trump support," he said. Perhaps they wrongly overcorrected this time?

Planet America host Chas Licciardello offered his own bleak theory during the ABC program on Wednesday night. After bad misses in 2016 and 2020, some pollsters have simply given up. Traditional sources like media companies have lost their appetite to fund polling after a barrage of criticism when seemingly missing the mark.

"There's been a real issue ... a lot of pollsters are just leaving the industry entirely because it's expensive, it takes a long time to call lots and lots of people … So what's happened is, pollsters have dropped out," Licciardello said.

"It's not just that we're getting less polls, but we're getting worse polls. There's no interest in a newspaper doing it. It's the parties themselves who are interested.

"It’s a bit of brave new world with polling. I think we now know that the non-partisan pollsters are valuable, but they're dying ... I feel like we're coming to the end of an era here."

And it could be one of much muddier political analysis.

A billion-dollar battle remains

Key Senate races in Nevada and Arizona are still too close to call and with mail votes to come, it could be some time until we know the results. But it's looking very possible that control of the Senate could come down to a run-off election in Georgia. That's right, ANOTHER election.

Either party could secure a majority with wins in both Nevada and Arizona. If not, the race in Georgia between former NFL star Herschel Walker and former pastor Raphael Warnock could have outsized importance. Neither men earned enough votes to win outright, meaning voters will be asked to choose again on December 6, in effect, possibly choosing which party controls the Senate.

Former college football star and current senatorial candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally, as former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds, in Perry, Georgia, U.S. September 25, 2021. REUTERS/Dustin Chambers
Former college football and NFL star Herschel Walker was heavily backed by Trump. Source: Reuters

This particular race was one of the most high-profile in the country, in what was at times an ugly contest. While the issue of abortion access proved to be a major factor in these midterm elections (helping drive young voters towards the Democrats), the race in Georgia focused on Walker's own opposition to abortion despite it being revealed he had previously paid for women to have the procedure after getting them pregnant. And this contest now has a chance to go national, if not global.

"If the Georgia runoff determines who controls the Senate, this will become a nationalised race. There will be money pouring in from everywhere," Prof Smith said. "Herschel Walker and his allies have already spent a quarter of a billion dollars ... We can expect another another half billion dollars to be spent on this by both sides."

Add on top of that, Donald Trump was due to make a "big announcement" next week, widely presumed to be officially throwing his hat in the ring for the 2024 presidency. That would complicate things further for Republicans, some of whom are already urging him not to.

"Trump was getting ready to take credit for a red wave and use that to launch his [presidential] election campaign," Prof Smith told Yahoo.

"It would certainly not help Hershel Walker's cause [in the run-off], I would suggest ... Republicans, if they're wise, won't be wanting Donald Trump in the mix."

But that's never stopped him before.

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