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America on Edge

Two years after electing Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President, the country seems to be in a state of flux, divided over what it perceives as an inept administration and general failure to secure the lives of people.

ASHOK NILAKANTAN |

The Buffalo/Texas shootings that claimed several innocent lives, mainly those of white children in Uvalde, have cast its shadow on the 2022 United States mid-term polls as there is a public outcry over inept police action in Texas delayed for over an hour besides no clear statement from US President Joe Biden on gun control except to say “such violence must come to end.” 

The 2022 elections, necessitated by the reapportionment (delimitation of constituencies) for all the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in Congress preceded by mayoral and gubernatorial elections in some of the states have now begun amidst the backdrop of the public outcry over the Texas shootings in which a lone gunman went on a killing spree slaying 19 children and two teachers recently. Media reports suggest police stood by for an hour before reining in the gun man despite several cries for help from children to the police control room which were not conveyed to the police on the site. A congressional hearing is now on with a lone surviving witness deposing before the commission. 

The 2020 census is based on an increase in population and migration of people from one state to another, particularly during Covid times, in search of jobs. This means that there could be now multiple candidates from one constituency or a lesser number of candidates in another. 

Other issues dominating the elections are baby food shortage, record-high inflation, high fuel prices (it spiked to $6 a gallon last weekend, or about Rs 100 a litre), and a static job market although there is a frenetic hiring spree, especially for blue-collar workers in grocery and supermarket stores in all states. Fuel prices were about $3 a gallon before the Russia Ukraine war. 

President Joe Biden’s popularity ratings had been plummeting since August 2021 to the lowest levels of his presidency but rebounded to 42 per cent in April as per a Reuters Ipsos survey. The survey revealed that though within the party Biden’s popularity climbed to 78 per cent from 72 per cent, his overall popularity with the people was dimming as his administration was being perceived as inept paving the way for Donald Trump to seek a Republican nomination to oppose Biden in the 2024 presidential elections. America is divided. But the sad part is the His- panic and white youth who voted for Biden are not in his favour anymore. Only black elders and the ageing white population are in favour of Biden. 

Two years after electing Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President, the country seems to be in a state of flux, divided over what it perceives as an inept administration and general failure to secure the lives of people. Considerable rage has built up over the Texas killings. Nonplussed over the situation, the National Rifle Association went ahead with its annual convention in Houston, even as a poll indicated that 65.2 per cent of the people were asking for gun control. The deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, has sparked an increase in support for stricter gun control measures since last week, according to a new Morning Consult/ Politico survey. 

Even as Biden struggles for gun control legislation in Congress for lack of numbers, the only hope is that if Congress splits 50:50, Vice President Ms Kamala Harris can cast her vote to get the majority in the house. The elections for the House of Representatives will see all 435 seats in the contest on November 8. 

The Democrats are worried, and Biden is said to be furious with his White House staff; he feels that although he is articulate on matters, his message to the people is not being delivered properly. And the reply he gets is “we thought you meant something else”. Biden is contemplating several changes in the West Wing including replacing his chief of staff, who has already offered to quit either during the 2022 midterms or immediately after. 

Speculation is rife that Anita Dunn, a black Democrat may replace him, as she is the go-to person for Biden in all crises. According to a survey, 65 per cent of voters favour stricter gun control laws in the United States, up from 60 per cent in a survey conducted after a May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, NY It marks a similar level of support for gun restrictions as measured in a sur- vey following the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Since last week’s survey, the share of Republicans in favour of tougher gun laws increased from 37 to 44 per cent, mirroring a level of support that had been fairly steady during Donald Trump’s presidency but declined after President Joe Biden took office last year. Two in three independent voters said they want stronger gun laws, up 10 percentage points from the post-Buffalo shooting survey. 

Some 36 gubernatorial seats are on the ballot in 2022. The elections are in the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Ida- ho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michi- gan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Neva- da, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Ver- mont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The 2022 gubernatorial elections are taking place amidst the 2020 census and reapportionment, the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election, and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some political observers perceive the 2022 gubernatorial elections as one of rising tensions between the state and federal governments and between branches of the federal government. According to Barry Casselman, a noted psephologist, “Usually, only one or two of these tensions predominates in an election cycle, but with many strong men and women governors, a divided Congress and Supreme Court, and a new president, a rare display of all these tensions at the same time might become very visible as we proceed to election day.” Twenty-four of the 100 largest US cities are holding may-oral elections in 2022. In 15 of those cities, the incumbent is a Democrat. Five incumbents are Republican, one is independent, and three are nonpartisan. 

The Democrats’ majority in Congress is razor-thin. The Senate is a 50-50 split and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s control of the House rests on a slim margin. In 2022, all 435 House seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats are on the ballot. Additionally, 36 out of 50 states will elect governors. 

Of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 48 representatives and one non-voting delegate (32 Democrats, 17 Republicans) have announced as of May that they will be retiring. As these elections will be the first conducted after the post-2020 census redistricting, several districts may lack an incumbent or have multiple incumbents. 

Many in the United States believe that 2022 will see the most consequential elections in the history of the nation. The Democrats and the Republicans will be fighting to retain what they won and regain what they lost in 2020. It will prove to be an acid test for both Biden and Trump in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections.