Accumulated "Fake News": The Columbia Journalism Review magazine has set up a disinformed kiosk full of counterfeit magazines and newspapers in Times Square, New York, to educate news consumers about the dangers of disinformation in the run-up to US Senate elections (Michael Brochstein / dpa)
President Donald Trump is not on the ballot in any of the 35 races for the Senate and 435 for the House of Representatives. Also in the elections for the 36 open governor posts in the states other candidates. Nevertheless, Trump behaves as if these intermediate elections were only about him. Which he is not entirely wrong. "Midterms are always a referendum on the president," says political scientist Allan Lichtman of the American University. This year more than ever applies to the incumbent. About two out of three voters tell pollsters that Trump is a factor in their vote for Congressional candidates. More than half of women even call the presidential administration the decisive factor.
"This is undoubtedly a referendum of a national nature," says Marist Institute Director, Lee Miringoff. The president knows that. "I do not stand for election, but I'm on the ticket," Trump recently told his supporters at a rally in Southhaven, Mississippi, to vote. "Imagine I'm on the ballot."
That much goes into these intermediate elections is one of the few points in which the parties in the otherwise highly polarized states of America agree. Barack Obama therefore returned from political retirement to actively campaign. "These midterms are the most important choices in my lifetime," the former president alerted his audience at the University of Chicago. "It could not be more."
Intermediate elections as an opportunity for the Democrats
For the Democrats, the midterm elections are the best chance politically to get back on stage, where they can be seen, and limit the populist in the White House. Control of the Senate or the House of Representatives would give the opposition the ability to block large parts of Trump's legislative agenda. More than that, Trump fears investigations into his conduct of office, subpoenas to committees of inquiry or even impeachment proceedings because of the Russian affair. The latter could threaten him if Republicans lose their majority in the House of Representatives. In no case will it be enough for an "impeachment" itself because the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate remains out of reach.
The numbers suggest ostensibly better opportunities for the Democrats in the Senate, where they separate two seats from the majority, while they lack 23 in the House of Representatives. In fact, it is the other way round. For 26 of the 35 senatorial seats available for election are occupied by Democrats, while only nine seats are in Republican hands. In addition, Democrats must defend themselves in states where Trump won a majority in the presidential election.
In the House of Representatives, on the other hand, almost all of the approximately 70 disputed seats are in republican hands. Except for a handful of exceptions, the Republicans have no chance to gain seats. The political "oracle" Charlie Cook, like the majority of analysts and demos, expects a major change in the House of Representatives. Whether it lasts for a "blue wave" depends on "whether the Democrats stay below or above the range of 30 to 35 seats." In the Senate, slight gains for the Republicans are expected.
Demoscopes do not want to commit themselves
But no one wants to commit. Too much is remembered in the debacle of the 2016 demos, which did not see a Trump victory come because they were based on completely wrong voter models. The risk is again this time, because in typical midterms more people do not vote than cast their vote. Four years ago, voter turnout was just over 36 percent. The strategists know what that means.
They lead a camp election campaign, which mobilizes their own base and tries to move non-voters with strong emotions to the ballot box. Hate and hope are equally appropriate. Trump relies on a recipe that has helped him in his own choice. It stirs up the resentment of white workers, rural and religious voters, who are receptive to his national-chauvinist, partly openly racist messages. No topic moves its basis more than the fear of alienation. The terrorist action of last week listed Trump as an "October Surprise" that stopped his momentum. "We have to get back on track," he tweeted to his followers, who were already spreading conspiracy theories.
Neither the attempted letter bomb attacks on Obama, Hillary Clinton and other liberal critics by a fanatical supporter of the president nor the gravest attack on the Jewish community in the US by a right-wing extremist who killed eleven people in Pittsburgh moved Trump to to change his tone in the election campaign. The White House insisted on coming to Pittsburgh in a synagogue on the day of the first funerals of the victims of the massacre, contrary to the wishes of those affected. To appear between campaign stops "would not have been a good look," was the reasoning.
Hate against "invaders from Central America"
After a few unctuous words, Trump continued as if nothing had happened. He is constantly rushing against a "caravan" of "invaders" from Central America, in which "bad guys" and "some from the Middle East" are hiding, denouncing journalists as enemies of the people and criminalizing his political opponents to the delight of his supporters. Despite the attempted letter bombing against Hillary Clinton chant the Trumper at rallies unmoved: "Block them!". Like no president before him, he exploits his office for the election campaign. He sends thousands of soldiers to the border to defend the US against a fictional invasion. Trump promises no chance of abolishing constitutional citizenship at birth by the stroke of a pen, and invents a tax reform for the middle class that nobody else knows about.
In the final days of the election campaign, he has packed up the schedule with eleven rallies in eight states to bring his, as critics say, "message of fear and hatred" to the people. "Alien fear and immigrant incitement has been around before," says historian Douglas Brinkley. New to it is that the president himself takes over the dirty work. "If he succeeds again, it shows how strong this current is."
Republican strategist Alex Conant says Trump's strategy of national identity is a double-edged sword. "In a deep republican state, that's great, but it gets problems in switching constituency districts." In other words, Senate elections such as Indiana, North Dakota, Tennessee, or Texas may seed, but not in the embattled suburban neighborhoods especially women are dropping in droves from the Republicans.
That's what the Democrats are counting on, largely ignoring Trump's agitation and using their lead in campaigning to push health issues and pension security to the fore. "The Republicans are trying their best to divert attention from what they have done to take away their health insurance from the Americans," says Nancy Pelosi, who would again be a spokeswoman for a majority in the House of Representatives.
Observers are also eagerly awaiting the outcome of the governor elections, which could bring Democrats up to ten new heads of state government. Among them in Georgia, the first black head of government Stacey Abrams and Florida also the first African-Americans Andrew Gillum. By the way, Trump recently named the latter a "thief". How the elections go on Tuesday depends largely on who votes. Certainly only seems to be so much: These midterms are a fateful election for America and a referendum on Donald Trump.