SITUATION UPDATE 7 November, 2022 Back
Situation Update - US to hold mid-term elections on 8th November
- Mid-term elections will include 39 gubernatorial elections, all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 35 seats of the Senate.
- The economy remains the most important topic to voters across the US, with the majority having polled in stating they have more confidence in the Republicans to manage the economy.
- Other important topics include reproductive rights, immigration, crime and democracy.
- Polls suggest the race to control the Congress remains tight with Republicans currently holding a small percentile lead, although this does not account for individual races for Congress.
- The turnout is purported to be high with over 40 million Americans having already voted in absence or in person, an outcome which looks likely to benefit the Democrats.
- The mid-terms represent the first major national elections held since the 2020 presidential election, the latter of which was followed by the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building in an effort to overturn the results of that election.
- Protests related to the election are likely to occur in response to results and have the potential to escalate into more violent actions.
As President Joe Biden approaches the halfway mark of his presidential term, on Tuesday, 8 November, his administration will face its first major electoral challenge as the country holds its 2022 mid-term elections for local, state and federal positions. Elections will include 39 governors, all 435 seats within the House of Representatives (HoR) and 35 of the 100 seats of the Senate, with the Democrats currently holding control of sections of the bicameral Congress.
Whilst individual races are being run across the board, certain topics have been focused upon by both the Republicans and Democrats respectively. As campaigning came to an end across the weekend, it has offered an insight into how both parties believe they will succeed in taking control of the legislative branch. For the incumbent Democrats, campaigning appears to have focused upon the defence of democratic institutions and democracy, with this election being the first since the attack on the US Capitol building on 6 January 2021. At a rally in Yonkers, New York, on 6 November, President Biden told the rally that “democracy is literally on the ballot”, with a number of electoral candidates and workers remaining involved in the electoral process despite having previously claimed that the election had been “stolen” from former President Donald Trump in 2020. Moreover, following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade ruling in June, and the consequential restrictions seen in many conservative US states, the Democrats have focused on prioritising reproductive rights, having promised to carve out a filibuster exception if they retain Congressional control.
In contrast, the Republicans have looked to the economy as Americans continue to struggle with the rising cost of living seen across the country and the world. With inflation sitting at a 40-year high, An ABC News/ Washington Post poll taken in the last few days outlined that 80% of Americans have called the economy or tackling inflation the most important issues in determining their vote, whilst another poll conducted two weeks prior outlined that more Americans trust the Republicans with the economy and the price of fuel. Consequently, the party has doubled down on their focus on the economy, accusing the Democrats of spending too much and for undermining fuel prices by limiting energy production. Additionally, and as was the case in the 2020 presidential race, immigration also remains a key topic on the docket for the Republicans. As record numbers of migrants and asylum seekers traverse the southern border, Republicans have focused on Biden’s allegedly lacklustre immigration policies which fail to secure the border. In a recent bid to draw attention to the matter, in September, Republican governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida have all taken credit for paying to transport migrants to liberal-leaning northern cities, with the Biden administration saying migrants were being used as “political pawns”.
With absentee and some in-person voting having already begun, with 40 million Americans said to have already voted, polls appear to suggest that the outcome of the election remains extremely tight. According to prominent pollster FiveThirtyEight, the Republicans appear to hold a 1.3-point advantage over Democrats on a generic congressional ballot when citizens were asked which party they would prefer to run Congress as a whole. However, in reality the outcome of the election will come down to which way the most tightly held races will fall. Despite being behind in the polls, Democrats remain hopeful with voter turnout anticipated to be high, with key political decisions such as Roe v Wade having promoted political participation that traditionally falls in their favour.
Of the 435 seats in the HoR, most are safely held by either political party, with just an estimated 30 seats open for either side to win. Key battlegrounds are set to include suburban areas around cities in states of Pennsylvania, California, Ohio and North Carolina. Current polls suggest that the Republicans may hold enough of an edge to regain control of the HoR after four years. For the Senate, the election appears likely to come down to pivotal races in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. The Senate is currently controlled by the Democrats as a result of Vice President Kamila Harris being the tie break vote, the slimmest possible majority with the 100-person house split 50-50. The Democrats currently also rely upon two independent candidates who frequently dissent against President Biden. If the Republicans are able to overturn just one seat in the Senate, they will gain control.
With the election purported to be so close, tensions appear to be on the rise, feeding into previous suggestions that the presidential election in 2020 was stolen from former President Donald Trump. The potential for violence was most vehemently illustrated on 28 October when the husband of HoR Speaker Nancy Pelosi was assaulted in his home in an attack which authorities believe was looking to target speaker Pelosi. Similarly, on 7 November, authorities announced that they had begun investigating an envelope left in the Phoenix campaign headquarters of Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Whilst the envelope was cleared to not be a threat, authorities believe the act was intended to intimidate Lake and her campaign staff.
The outcome of the elections will be significant with the purported victory for the Republicans in both the HoR and the Senate, as well as gubernational elections, appearing to pave the way for victory in the 2024 presidential election. President Biden’s current majority in Congress, albeit slim in the Senate, currently means that the administration is enabled to enact policy more effectively, with Republicans relying on dissenting Democrats to halt bills. However, if either the HoR or Senate are lost following the mid-term elections, both President Biden and the Democrats will likely be restrained in acting upon their proposed agenda. Ultimately, polls suggest that voters remain concerned about the current direction of the country, with the economy remaining the most pressing concern. Political gridlock would likely see President Biden constrained for the next two years, undermining the Democrats position in 2024.
Gubernatorial elections also remain pivotal, with governors often having a strong influence on a number of issues which have already defined the national elections, including reproductive rights and immigration. Moreover, governors hold the power to sign or veto legislation related to elections or, in some cases, the appointment of top election officials, which could have a significant effect on the presidential vote in 2024.
Critical votes are purported to be taking place in Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Georgia, New York and Texas as both parties look to win hotly contested seats and make ground in previously safe states. Highlighting the potential for gubernatorial elections to impact the presidential election in 2024, former President Donald Trump, who is anticipated to announce his candidacy following the mid-terms, has focused upon endorsing particular Republican candidates, such as Kari Lake in Arizona, in a bid to garner support.
The mid-term election comes as the US political climate appears to be at its most polarised and vitriolic in decades with persistent political and societal tensions having been seen across the country remaining prominent across state and federal elections. Tensions also appear to have been stirred in recent weeks as a result of the close nature of the mid-term elections, with the outcome seemingly crucial for both the Republicans and Democrats for both the next two years of President Biden’s time in office, and ultimately the 2024 presidential elections. Adding to this, political actors have been accused of running influential disinformation campaigns in a continued effort to sow discord and mistrust in the US electoral process.
Given the elevated polarisation of US politics and society at present, protest activity is deemed highly likely before, during, and after forthcoming mid-term elections. Such action will likely materialise in locations related to the elections, including government buildings such as city halls, state capitols, courthouses, and voting centres. The highly charged nature of the elections could in turn give way to a potential violent escalation, especially if protests are met by counterdemonstrations. Whilst an increased law enforcement presence may mitigate this, a perceived heavy-handed police response to protest action may to have an adverse effect.
The most significant threat to security during the elections however is the risk of far-right extremism and militancy. In the run-up to the mid-terms, far-right organisations have repeatedly espoused their beliefs that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from former President Donald Trump, a key narrative that inspired the 6 January 2021 Capitol insurrection. Consequently, there are fears such organisations may conduct similar action in the event of unfavourable outcomes.
The potential of political violence is deemed especially high in areas, including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin where national pollsters have predicted the vote will be tight, which could open the door for accusations of electoral fraud and vote rigging. Notably, several candidates, including Republican gubernatorial nominee for Arizona Kari Lake have refused to confirm if they will accept the results of the elections should they be on the losing side, which could be interpreted by far-right organisations as a directive to "stop the steal".
The potential for cyber threats against the U.S. election process is largely conflated with the risk of foreign interference. During the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, there were multiple attempts by foreign actors (particularly Russia) to disrupt the election process using malicious cyberattacks, the goal of which was to sow discord and disinformation within the electorate to influence results and cause US citizens to question the veracity of those results.
However, both the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a joint advisory that noted malicious cyber activity used to compromise election infrastructure is unlikely to result in large-scale disruptions or interfere with voting. Instead, the main threat of disinformation is thought to emanate from domestic actors typically aligned with the far-right. Beyond purely electoral violence, the rise of far-right extremism has coincided with increased violent rhetoric targeting the US' minorities groups. The severity of this was noted following an FBI search on President Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago in August 2022, after which the FBI noted an uptick in right-wing conspiracy theories peddling anti-Semitism and advocating violence towards against law enforcement officials. Just days later, an armed individual attempted to infiltrate an FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, leading to a high-speed chase and shootout with law enforcement.
Whilst results will begin to filter through in the days prior to the election on 8 November, key contests have the potential to take weeks to be finalised with races anticipated to be that close. This is particularly the case for gubernatorial races in which, in states like Georgia, a candidate must earn 50% of the vote to achieve an outright win or face a runoff in December. In such cases, it appears likely that political violence and far-right extremist ideologies will gain a further foothold, particularly if after such delay the Democratic candidate ends up gaining victory. Moreover, incidents will most likely be spurred on by candidates, and outside actors such as former President Trump, encouraging political resistance to alleged fraud, even if not evidence is provided.
As the elections take place, and results consequently confirmed, a heightened security presence should be anticipated across the country, particularly in states where gubernatorial and national elections remain tight.
- Be mindful of possible transport and business disruptions when travelling to major cities, with the potential for protests to emerge, particularly in urban centres.
- Regularly monitor national and international news reports for situational updates, keeping in mind the potential for disinformation.
- Exercise heightened caution if near large groups and immediately move away from scenes of violence or unrest. Tensions can rise with little to no warning during demonstrations. Always adhere to authorities.
- Close and potentially contested races will create the most likely locations for protest activity and based on current polls, such races are possible in several states, including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.