Wednesday evening, a few days before the midterm elections, the so-called midterms (if all 435 House seats are redistributed, 34 Senate seats are at stake and some states also elect a governor), let US President Joe Biden in unmistakable words know how dire the situation is, he says: ‘In a normal year, we are not confronted with the question of whether the vote we cast will preserve or threaten democracy. But this year it will.’
Biden’s words underlined what many Americans have long believed. As it turns out a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that only 9 percent of Americans think democracy works ‘extremely well’ or ‘works very well’ at home, while 52 percent think democracy ‘doesn’t work well’. A study from Quinnipiac University had an even more worrisome message: 67 percent of Americans believe that democracy in the US is on the brink of collapse.
In addition, the violent storming of the US Congress on January 6, 2021 has cost a lot of confidence: a CBS News-YouGov poll earlier this year found that 62 percent of Americans fear violence will break out in future presidential elections because of the outcome. To what extent are the midterms now a stress test for democracy in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election? And can the Americans still save their democracy?
Koen Petersen, political scientist and Americanist:
In 1801 defeated President John Adams voluntarily handed over power to his opponent Thomas Jefferson. Two centuries later, this pioneering transition is still the norm in the US – but no longer self-evident. The Capitol storming was unique and horrifying in that regard.
“Unfortunately, political violence in America is becoming more common. In June, for example, an assassination attempt on Chief Justice Brett Kavanaugh was foiled and a violent burglar targeted US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week.
“Americans’ opinion of democracy is determined by the message they receive from their leaders. Dozens of Trumpian candidates want to rewrite the rules of democracy, and some tolerate violence. This is terrifying, because it could erode the political system. Although the question is whether they – like Donald Trump – can unleash popular anger. Because Trump has a unique cult-like relationship with his supporters that others cannot easily copy. Nevertheless, more and more politicians like Trump will want to capitalize on the enormous mobilizing power of social media.
“Add to that how gun-rich American society is — and unfortunately that means every election can be another stress test. Only with exemplary behavior at crucial moments can image-defining politicians bring the traditional norms back to normal: condemning violence, no verbal personal attacks, not accepting aggression, and showing visible respect for the institutions. This week, for example, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro decided not to challenge his election defeat despite boasting. In doing so, he did democracy a service, and he managed to avoid a national stress test with a ‘personal stress test’. American politicians should follow an example of that.’
Jennifer Smits-Kilgus, served as a top official in the Bush administration and campaigned for the Biden-Harris team:
During the 2020 Biden-Harris campaign, one of the slogans was: ‘The struggle for the soul of the nation.’ Now exactly that battle is fiercer than ever. Biden’s presidency coincides with a series of exceptionally difficult events, making it difficult for Democrats to maintain their majority to keep. If the House and/or Senate does indeed come under Republican control, Democrats will suddenly have a very hard time getting anything done. Instead of passing legislation, Biden will have to fight Republicans all the time in Congress. This will result in a stalemate and stagnation of democracy.
While the midterms should be a critical stress test for democracy, in reality it will be a vote against what goes wrong in everyday life. And that’s mostly the dire state of the economy, which the average American will blame the Biden administration for. This paves the way for a ‘Republican’ 2024. At the same time, their voting rights are the only mechanism Americans have to protect democracy.
“Citizens should push for greater scrutiny of news outlets like Fox News, which are biased and spread falsehoods. Also, a campaign finance reform would work wonders. Now millionaires too often buy their way into office.’
Bianca Pander, Americanist and partner at campaign agency BKB:
As former President Barack Obama said last week, ‘Democray is on the ballot’. In fact, American democracy has been under pressure for years, because no structural maintenance has been carried out on it. With good representation, the electoral system has? little to do. There are a number of reasons for this: it winner takes allprinciple, which means that there are in fact only two parties, who are also allowed to reclassify constituencies so that they secure them, often with minor differences.
“And for the Senate, every state – regardless of population – provides two senators. Both sides now supply 50 senators each. The Democratic senators alone represent more than 40 million more people than the Republican senators. And let it be the Senate that can appoint chief justices. Chief Justices who have pushed aside the right to abortion, which the vast majority of Americans support.
“Hopefully it’s angry enough for Americans to go to the polls after all. That is ultimately how you can turn the tide.
Willem Post, senior research associate US presidency and foreign policy at Clingendael:
America is seriously ill. More than a hundred Republican candidates at these midterms fail to recognize the 2020 presidential election results. If with these Trumpian candidates win, Donald Trump himself will
In his first term as president, Trump was held in check by a number of tough ministers. He breaks loose in a possible second term. Biden (or any Democrat) thus faces the historic task of forging a giant-majority coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans and independent voters over the next two years to rein in the Trumpists.
‘The American political scientist and philosopher Francis Fukuyama is right. Citizens in democracies should no longer be arrogant and omniscient, but should unite combatively around a few democratic core values such as the ‘rule of law’. It’s five to twelve. I count on the common sense of most Americans.”