News ID: 233967
Published: 0657 GMT November 09, 2018

Economy takes a back seat in US midterm elections

Economy takes a back seat in US midterm elections


Going into the midterm elections, US Republicans hammered home the message that Americans have not had it so good for more than a decade — the economy was booming and wages growing thanks to tax cuts.

Voters just shrugged. In the wake of the GOP’s loss of the House of Representatives, some Republicans have acknowledged that Donald Trump’s personality, and issues such as healthcare, dwarfed any feelgood factor from the strong US economy, reported.

The GOP’s $1.5tn tax-cutting package, in particular, failed to galvanize many voters, in part because the Democrats successfully branded it as a handout to the rich and powerful, GOP operatives said. While Trump’s tariffs — the other signature economic policy of his first two years in the White House — do not appear to have damped support for the GOP, they also did not trigger a rush of voter enthusiasm.

The result in some agricultural areas most affected by the trade wars was mixed: Some Democrats who attacked the tariffs lost, while others won.

“The stronger economy, which I believe was at least partially aided by tax cuts, probably cushioned the Republicans a bit, but not that much,” said Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman turned lobbyist.

Midterm elections, he explained, are basically ‘grievance elections’ in which voters turn out to protest something — in this case, Democrats signaling their anger at Trump.

“Because the economy was so strong voters weren’t necessarily that worried about it,” said John Feehery, a former senior Republican congressional aide at EFB Advocacy, a lobbying group.

“They didn’t give Trump credit for the economy and they didn’t like his rhetoric.”

Exit polls suggested that the majority of voters viewed the economy as being in good shape when they voted on Tuesday, but did not appear to attribute those conditions to the tax cuts.

Polling data published by CNN showed that 45 percent of those asked said the tax cuts had had no impact on their finances, while only 29 percent said the reductions had helped. By Thursday morning, Democrats had gained 29 seats, more than they needed to win control of the chamber, and had flipped a number of state legislatures around the country.

Democrats’ success in dislodging Republican lawmakers from a host of well-off suburban areas on election night illustrates how tax policy failed to transform the GOP’s chances. Minnesota provides one example. Two of the previously GOP-held districts that Democrats converted were relatively prosperous suburban districts in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region. In both cases incumbent Republican lawmakers failed to convince voters that they should be rewarded for supporting the tax cuts.

 “We were just slaughtered out in the suburbs,” said one senior Minnesota Republican.

“The Democrats did a terrific job of downplaying the effects . . .[of the tax cuts] on the economy and on family budgets. They became a non-factor.”

In addition, in wealthier suburbs in high-tax states such as California, Illinois and New Jersey, where Republicans suffered big losses, provisions of the tax bill that limited deductions on mortgage interest meant many households would actually take a hit.

“They didn’t love the tax cut because they didn’t see what was in it for them,” Feehery added. The senior Minnesota Republican added that the impact of the tariffs was harder to gauge. In the state’s first district, which is heavily agricultural, the GOP candidate Jim Hagedorn managed to claim a seat previously occupied by the Democrats. In nearby North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic incumbent senator, lost her seat after campaigning in opposition to the China tariffs since the state’s soyabean industry was being ravaged by retaliation against US farm exports. In the industrial rust belt, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, was re-elected after supporting Trump’s trade policies. But in Iowa, a crucial swing state in presidential elections, Democrats won three out of four congressional seats after lambasting Trump’s trade wars.

Sean Bagniewski, chair of the Democratic party of Polk County in Iowa, said that attacking Trump on trade ‘absolutely’ contributed to victories by Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne in previously Republican seats.

“The entire Iowa economy is feeling the effects of tariffs and the trade war — with corn, with soyabean, with hogs, with a lot of what the Iowa economy is built on,” Bagnieswski said.


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