TK Arun

Is there a clear winner in the US midterm elections? The Democrats have retained the upper chamber, the Senate, while the Republicans will probably take the House, the lower chamber, making for a divided Congress. There is a clear loser, though: former president, Donald Trump, whose election-denying tribe of supporters was rejected by the electorate, for the most part. If at all we are to name a victor, it would have to be hypocrisy.

No opinion poll before November 8, the election day, forecast the result that has finally materialized. The polls, including polls of polls, suggested a wave in favor of Republicans. It was the common sense among the commentariat that the Republicans would take the House by a resounding margin, while the Democrats just might manage to retain their 50-member strength in the Senate, needing Vice-President Kamala Harris’s casting vote to secure a majority.

As it has turned out, the Democrats have retained control of the Senate, wresting one key Senate seat from the Republicans, and could well win a run-off, slated for December, in Georgia, where a candidate has to secure more than 50 percent of the votes cast to secure a win — the Democratic candidate was in the lead, although he fell short of the 50 percent mark. The Republicans could take control of the House, but not riding the predicted Red wave (Red is the Republican color), but, instead, securing a slender majority going by present counting trends.

What led to the opinion poll failure?

What accounts for this unusual failure to gauge the mood of the electorate? Which section of voters could have been coy about revealing their decision to vote Democrat? Not voters who traditionally support the Democrats. Not the Trump Republicans, who make no bones about their ardent faith in their messiah, who — according to the Q-Anon conspiracy, belief in which is widespread among Republicans, including some elected representatives — has been deputed by God to finish off the Satan-worshipping Democrats, who, in collusion with the American deep state, kidnap and hold in captivity small children for sexual perverts to prey on.

We must appreciate the difference between opinion polls in India, which we are familiar with, and opinion polls in the US. In India, it is habitual for respondents to second-guess the pollster and give the answer the respondent has figured out the pollster wants to hear. Why take a risk, thinks the typical Indian respondent, located in a heavily hierarchical society, accustomed to intolerance of dissent by those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy. Americans typically do not worry, while giving their opinion on something, that they might displease someone else. Individualism has deep roots in the American psyche, unlike in India, where, for cultural as well as practical reasons, there is a premium on not giving offense.

A previous instance, when opinion polls mostly got it wrong in American elections, was the 2016 presidential election, when few forecast a Trump victory. Probably, college-educated Americans, who disliked Hillary Clinton, were ashamed to admit they were casting their lot with a closet racist and out-of-the-closet misogynist. Perhaps, the last-minute revelation by the then-FBI director that the Feds were reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of her private email account for official communications as secretary of state created a surge of distrust in the Democratic candidate, to the benefit of Trump. We do not know.

What other section of voters in the US midterms, who are not normally Democrat supporters — who would respond positively for Democrats to pollsters — had a reason to vote Democrat but keep quiet about it beforehand? Voters who are turned off by Donald Trump and his blind followers who staged the insurrection on January 6, 2021, trying to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s electoral victory by storming the building where Congressmen assembled and seeking to attack that inside?

There is a breed of Republicans who proudly present themselves as Never-Trumpers, led by former vice-president Dick Cheney’s daughter, Liz Cheney. For ordinary Republicans, who do not have to worry about securing Trump’s endorsement as a candidate for elected office, the best way to salvage their party from the perceived perils of Trumpism is to be vocal about it; there is little reason for them to keep quiet about it to pollsters.

Women and the issue of abortion

There is, however, one well-defined set of people who fit this bill: women voters who traditionally vote Republican, but preferred Democrats this time around, but chose to keep quiet about it, women voters who feel the pain of being stripped of what they had assumed to be their constitutional right to have an abortion if they needed one.

For all its pious avowal of secularism, American politics is riddled with the prejudices and foibles of faith and its myriad interpretations. Many evangelical Christians and Catholics hate the Democrats on account of their support for abortion. The vast majority of Republican politicians are, in the American political lingo, pro-life, as opposed to pro-choice.

In 1973, the US Supreme Court delivered a verdict, in a case referred to as Roe vs Wade, holding the right to abortion to be a constitutional right, deriving from the implied right to privacy guaranteed by the 9th and 14th amendments to the US constitution. Repeated legal challenges had narrowed the scope of the right to abortion, but not overturned the ruling, until the last week of June this year.

A conservative majority of the US Supreme Court threw out the Roe vs Wade judgment and declared that whether abortions should be carried out or not is part of the mass of things that the government at the state level should decide. This left the question of whether a woman should carry a pregnancy to full term or not to be decided, in the language of a Republican candidate, by the woman, her medical advisor, and the local politician.

Many women found the thought of the long arm of local politics reaching into their bodies, as it were, abhorrent. Many first-time voters openly declared their determination to vote against the Republicans on account of the Republicants’ support for banning or severely restricting abortion. A section of Republican women would have voted against the candidates of their own party in order to secure their right to their own bodies, life choices, and reproductive autonomy. But they would have chosen not to pick a fight with their male Republican relatives or friends and go about exercising their choice on the quiet. It is quite likely this group misled the pollsters, with their silence on their electoral choice.

This, obviously, is a form of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, it would appear, has its uses. It has put Trump on the back foot, although he has gone ahead and declared his intent to run for President in 2024. Many Republicans now blame Trump and his choice of election deniers as candidates for the Republicans’ poor performance, despite the high level of voter disaffection over inflation, President Biden’s low approval ratings, and the historical trend for the President’s party to come a cropper in the midterms.

This article first appeared in The Federal as Trump was big loser in mid-term, but real winner was hypocrisy, on Nov 17, 2022.

About the Author

tk arun

TK Arun is a Senior Journalist and Columnist based in Delhi.

Read more by the author at IMPRI Insights.