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Autumn Update and Final Thoughts on the Midterms
This post is in two halves. The first is an update on the substack and our plans for the next few months; the second is, as promised, a final update on the US midterms on Tuesday with some predictions, albeit tentative ones given how tight many of the key races look going into the last few days.
But first the update. I’m delighted to say we passed a nice milestone this week and now have over 20,000 subscribers (free and paid). As of today at least this is the most popular politics substack in Europe. Our initial growth was mainly via twitter but increasingly it is coming through the substack network and via word of mouth and reader sharing so please do keep sharing posts – it makes a big difference to visibility, particularly for people who aren’t heavy social media users. (Which will be even more important if Elon Musk does break twitter.)
Some of the most popular posts over the past few months have been the ones tracking the unfolding chaos in British politics. Car crashes are always interesting, though not particularly enjoyable if you’re in the car. But I was really pleased with the response to my recent post on what Labour should be planning to do in government, which was more policy focused. As things settle down over the next few months I will continue to do regular posts on political developments in the UK, including the fiscal statement on the 17th November, but I am also intending to do more policy-oriented posts. There will be one next week on the politics and policy issues around migration including what a (theoretical) serious/competent Home Secretary might do about the increase in channel crossings, and I’m planning several posts on NHS reform. I’ve also been offered the opportunity to run some regular UK polling on issues of interest, so if there any questions that you’ve always wanted to ask the British public let me know.
Dad will continue to write on Ukraine – the most read post of the last quarter was his on the Ukrainian surge in September, and hopefully they will continue to make progress as winter falls. But he will also be looking at some UK policy issues, including the AUKUS pact between the US, Australia and the UK (he is currently in Australia). And we will keep an eye on developments in other countries, including the US. There will be another Q+A towards the end of this month or early December. We may use the new Substack chat function to do this which is available via the Substack App, if you haven’t downloaded that yet. I’m also looking at the possibility of doing live video Q+As in the future.
On top of all this we are going to start adding in occasional guest posts by non-Freedmans, which will be for paid subscribers. These will be on issues of global or national importance that we don’t feel qualified to write about, by experts that we know and trust. The first hopefully will be quite soon and we’re planning on doing one a month for now. The vast majority of content will continue to be written by us.
We are only able to expand the content on the site like this because of our subscriber numbers, so if you find what we’re doing valuable and want to see it grow please do keep spreading the word.
On to the midterms. In my post a few weeks ago I explained why these elections are so important – in particular the Senate – because if the Democrats can keep control it will allow President Biden to keep making judicial and executive appointments. One thing I didn’t mention is how important it could be to the outcome of the 2024 Presidential election and whether it can be settled fairly.
Washington Post analysis of the Republican nominees across all the different races taking place on Tuesday shows that a majority don’t accept the result of the 2020 election. Trump’s blatant attempts to steal that contest were, in part, thwarted by GOP state officials who signed off the results, sometimes under extreme direct pressure from the ex-President. As they are replaced by more extreme candidates who don’t accept that result and have indicated they would challenge a similar outcome next time, the risks of a disputed and violent election in 2024 increase. If the Republicans control both houses of Congress these risks increase further, especially if they hold the Senate by three or four seats. We might expect that the judiciary would step in if necessary, but with Republicans having a clear majority on the Supreme Court one wouldn’t want to rely on them.
The polarisation in US politics that has led to this point – where so many GOP voters, and candidates, won’t even accept that President Biden really won – is a much bigger problem than can be solved in one midterm election. I’m not even sure it can be solved. But for the time being the more Republicans win the greater the chances that 2024 descends into chaos.
Another risk is the impact of a strong Republican performance on the strength of US support for Ukraine, on which the latter is almost entirely dependent given the limited stocks of weaponry left in European inventories. Many Republican candidates have criticised the cost of US aid given economic challenges at home and this message is sticking. In March, a Wall Street Journal poll found that only 6% of Republicans thought the U.S. was doing too much to support Ukraine. Now, that number is 48%. Trump, assuming he stands again, has a well-known tendency towards isolationism, though it is sometimes in contradiction with his fear of looking weak. While other Republican leaders, especially in the Senate, have so far continued to support Ukraine it’s not hard to see how Trump could make it a campaign theme if the conflict drags on.
So it’s an election that really matters and as I said last time it’s on a knife edge. As I expected polls have drifted back towards the Republicans over the past few weeks as right-wing voters who were hiding in the “undecided” column come back home. The House was always likely to go Republican and is now almost certain to do so, barring a major systemic polling error in the Democrats favour. The Senate though remains too close to call. 538 now give the Republicans only a 55% chance of winning, even with their recent poll improvements, and their model adjustments assume a small polling skew towards the Democrats, remove the skew and it’s basically neck and neck.
Again, barring systemic polling error, all but one of the Republican held senate seats look out of reach now for the Democrats. I never thought it was likely they would gain North Carolina, Ohio, or Wisconsin, despite being up in the polls a few weeks ago, and I think it’s even less likely now. Pennsylvania remains their big opportunity – and they know it, both Obama and Biden have been campaigning there this weekend. Polls have continued to tighten there too but Democrat John Fetterman remains just ahead. Unfortunately his performance in the one debate between him and opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz did not go well, and heightened concerns that he will struggle to communicate properly following his stroke. On the plus side Fetterman has been endorsed by Oprah, amusingly given her TV show made Dr. Oz famous.
If the Democrats fail to win in Pennsylvania then they have to hold all of their own seats to avoid losing control of the senate - with Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia the ones most at risk. I still think they will lose Nevada and early voting is looking bad for them. And I still think they’ll win Arizona where Mark Kelly is polling ahead of Blake Masters, who is clearly underperforming other Republican nominees (including their candidate for Governor, Kari Lake, who is a full Trumpian but a presentable one who I fear will end up a Presidential nominee at some point).
The race in Georgia remains extremely tight – with the dire GOP candidate Herschel Walker still mired in scandal over allegations he paid two women to have abortions yet leading in some polls. Under Georgia’s election rules if neither candidate reaches 50% of the vote there will be a runoff in December and that’s what I expect to happen here. If the Democrats have won Pennsylvania and lost Nevada then that run-off will be for control of the Senate.
This is still, I think, the most likely scenario; with the second most likely being that the Republicans hold Pennsylvania and take control by 51-49 even with a Democrat win in Georgia. But it’s also entirely plausible that the late polling shift to the Republicans continues and they win by three or four seats by taking Georgia, Arizona and even New Hampshire, which should be safe but on a bad night could slip away. This seems much more likely than a scenario where the polling bias favours the Democrats and *they* win by three or four via taking Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and maybe North Carolina, while holding their existing seats.
If it does go well for the Republicans then we could see a Trump announcement about running for President again very quickly – as soon as the 14th November according to some reports. Though he’s hardly a reliable decision maker and may enjoy leaving people guessing a little longer. Whatever happens the next few years are looking rocky for American democracy with no clear way out.
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