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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Women are leading the charge in the US midterms

This election boils down to the basic question of whether President Trump's powers should be curtailed

The Democrats are fielding many women candidates in the midterms, including Rashida Tlaib, who is set to become the first female, Muslim, Palestinian-American to serve in Congress . AP
The Democrats are fielding many women candidates in the midterms, including Rashida Tlaib, who is set to become the first female, Muslim, Palestinian-American to serve in Congress . AP

The US midterm elections will help define the rest of Donald Trump’s presidency. The result will also shape all of our lives, worldwide. On November 6, Americans will vote for members of both chambers of Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives – as well as for the governors in 36 out of 50 states.

Typically, only 40 per cent of those eligible to vote, around 240 million citizens, turn up to the polling stations. One wonders how the results would differ if everyone was obliged to vote, as is law in Australia. As this is not the case in the US, this election battle will boil down to which of the two major political parties can motivate more of the silent 60 per cent to show up on election day and vote for them.

So, which group of voters is the most energised? If the ability to raise more than $1 billion in campaign finance donations − a record amount ­− is any guide to enthusiasm, then the Democrats may have their nose out in front. But one must acknowledge that Republicans generally have a better record at closing an argument.

Many issues, ranging from that local to the international, are being debated on the midterm campaign trail. But, given the shadow that he has cast over the nation’s political landscape for the last two years, this election will be largely based on how those 240 million voters answer one basic question: should Mr Trump’s powers be curtailed?

It is commonly said that Americans vote with their wallets. This is often the case every four years in presidential elections. However, while spending a few days in Washington DC last week, one of the things that struck me most was how much emotional engagement is trumping − no pun intended − economic wellbeing in determining how people plan to cast their votes.

By all accounts, the US economy is roaring, with second-quarter GDP growth of more than four per cent and national unemployment near record lows.

Despite this, the mood on the street is that, as one man told me, “American values are on the ballot.”

Many people I spoke to felt a deep-seated sense of embarrassment, or even anger, about the ways in which the Trump administration has behaved on behalf of American citizens. One frequently cited example was the Department of Homeland Security’s policy earlier this year of forcibly separating young children from their parents at the Mexican border crossing.

As of September 1, more than a month after a court deadline passed for divided families to be reunited, nearly 500 children remained in government-funded shelters without their parents, according to court papers.

“It is just not right. We all have children, we are all human beings,” one Ethiopian-American, who has been a citizen for 16 years, told me.

But the reality is that many support Mr Trump’s hardline position on immigration − so much so that he takes every opportunity to double down on it.

While those opposed to Mr Trump’s policies seemed to have upper hand in recent months, the voters that propelled him to power two years ago now appear to have been woken from their slumber. This has largely been accomplished by the battle to have Brett Kavanaugh appointed on the Supreme Court, despite him facing multiple allegations of sexual assault and a bruising, drawn-out Senate confirmation process.

In the same way that most people have a basic moral understanding that ripping infants from their parents, regardless of their immigration status, “is just wrong”, the #MeToo movement has struck a chord simply because every voter has a sister, a daughter or a mother. Far too often the Trump administration and those associated with it appear to have fallen on the wrong side of this issue.

It is clearly a battle line of this election. More women candidates than ever will stand in the upcoming midterms. A total of 256 − 197 Democrats and 59 Republicans, according to an analysis of election results − have qualified for the November ballot in House or Senate races so far.

It is clear that Democrats are nominating more women than Republicans and making it a priority to position them as candidates as a part of their platform in midterm election races. Whether this is a successful strategy or not will be revealed shortly.

Sean Evers is the founder and managing partner of Gulf Intelligence