PSL Statement: The right wing’s program is deeply unpopular. So why are the elections so close?

The corporate media is on a nonstop campaign asserting that the U.S. electorate is turning to the right and rejecting progressive policies. It is clear that if Republicans win back either the House or Senate, this message will be amplified a thousand times over. But this narrative is completely fraudulent. In the working class especially, there is a widespread rejection of corporate power, an embrace of core progressive policies and a desire to fight. Whether or not that sentiment is fully reflected in the midterm outcome — and there are various factors suppressing it — there is no reason for any socialist to adopt the false picture of the working class provided by the corporate media. 

The contest between the two ruling-class parties for control of Congress is entering its final stretch. The midterm election is now less than three weeks away, with Republicans hoping to take control of one or both houses of the legislature. The outcome will have a major impact on the trajectory of U.S. politics in the coming years, potentially hobbling the already-unpopular Biden administration, deepening gridlock and turmoil at the summits of elite politics, and setting the stage for an even fiercer confrontation in 2024.

Republicans are favored to win the House but polls show the race for the Senate in a dead heat. But in such a volatile political and economic period, surprises in either direction cannot be ruled out. 

Considering how unpopular the core political positions of the right wing are, the fact that the election is so close is truly remarkable. From abortion rights to taxes to healthcare, climate change, false election fraud allegations and beyond, the bulk of Republican Party politicians hold positions that are rejected by the majority of people in this country. How can it possibly be that they stand a chance to seize control of Congress this election?

A confluence of dramatic events and long-standing trends have created this opening for the right wing, perhaps none more important than the dire economic situation. Skyrocketing prices for essential goods have caused great suffering for the working class while major corporations register record profits. And now the specter of all-out recession looms as the Federal Reserve embarks on a policy of interest rate hikes designed to bring about just such a crisis. The explicit goal of this policy is to increase unemployment and reduce workers’ incomes, which the Wall Street-dominated Federal Reserve argues will bring down inflation.

The Republicans do not have an economic program that appeals to the needs of those who are bearing the brunt of this turmoil. Instead, they have sought to paint Biden and by extension the whole Democratic Party as incompetant managers of the economy whose bad decision making is responsible for the situation. 

This approach, which involves little to no mention of specific measures that the Republicans would actually take once in office, has only been effective because of the complete failure of the Democratic Party to take action over the last two years to provide relief for working people. The dramatic change involving a major expansion of social and economic rights that Democrats promised on the campaign trail and in the opening months of the Biden administration simply did not materialize. And the Democrats failed even though they controlled both houses of Congress!

The pathetic collapse of Biden’s domestic agenda has demoralized the Democratic Party’s base. In fact, it is so common for the party in power to immediately abandon their campaign promises that it has become a universally accepted truth in U.S. politics that the party that wins the White House is always at a disadvantage going into their first midterm. 

In his first year in office, Biden pushed a reform program called “Build Back Better.” This would have made community college free, established guaranteed parental leave and sick leave, sent monthly payments to working class parents through a tax credit, created universal pre-K and childcare subsidies, initiated a major program to slash the use of fossil fuels in electricity production, funded desperately-needed improvements to public housing, and more. Biden also supported the passage of the PRO Act to make it easier to form a union, the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ people, and police reform legislation to address racist brutality. 

Had these widely popular measures become a reality, the Democrats would be in a position to sweep the midterm elections. But because of the objections of a handful of right-wing Democratic Party members of Congress – especially Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – this push fell apart. Instead of putting the power of the presidency to use pressuring these holdouts, Biden praised them in public and entered into a series of dead-end negotiations in an attempt to appease them. After slashing his original proposal, it was eventually buried on national TV when Joe Manchin went on Fox News to announce he would no longer consider voting in favor of Build Back Better in any form. 

Democrats held out hope that this problem could be at least partially remedied by the passage of the “Inflation Reduction Act” in August, which was followed later that month with the cancellation of up to $10,000 of student loan debt. While the Inflation Reduction Act did take limited steps to address the climate crisis and the spiraling cost of healthcare, it plus debt relief appears to have only produced a short-term boost to Democrats’ popularity.

Struggle for abortion rights betrayed by Democrats

The Supreme Court’s evisceration of abortion rights in the Dobbs decision has been a central feature of the campaign. The outrageous decision by five unelected, millionaire judges to roll back a right that had existed at the federal level for half a century infuriated tens of millions of people across the country. 

Abortion rights are widely popular, and the far right’s push to ban this medical procedure is rejected by a clear majority. For example, a Pew Research Center opinion poll that came out in June, just before the Dobbs decision was officially announced, found that 61 percent of people believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases – including 38 percent of Republicans. 

This is a major factor in people’s decision-making when it comes to the election. Only 45 percent of people surveyed for an Economist/YouGov poll in late October were sure they would even consider voting for a candidate who was “pro-life” and 27 percent ruled it out entirely. On the other hand, 57 percent of respondents would consider a pro-choice candidate, and only 18 percent said it was impossible that they would vote for someone who was pro-choice.

People make their decision at the polls based on many factors and considerations. It is not as simple as voters determining what their main issue is and choosing candidates that reflect their position on it. It is crucial to reject the simplistic narrative spun in the corporate media that a Republican victory would mean that people care about the economy – the main issue they have been emphasizing – but not abortion, the main issue being emphasized by Democrats. This is simply not how politics works.

While huge numbers of people were taking to the streets in protest and demanding immediate action to reverse this historic assault on women’s rights, Democratic Party political operatives were quietly celebrating. Their impending electoral defeat, they reasoned, could now be avoided because the right wing had done something so wildly unpopular that Democrats would be able to overcome their own lack of concrete achievements. 

But if this does not come to pass and the Democrats are defeated nonetheless, it is not because the issue of abortion rights has become unimportant or a secondary issue. It would in fact be a reflection of the Democratic Party’s failure to take action to defend this basic right. Masses of people become engaged in a struggle when there is a realistic prospect to win. If it appears that there is no hope for the movement to prevail, the anger that initially drove hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest can easily turn into demoralization. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, there were a number of concrete steps the Democrats could have taken to fight back. Most importantly, they could have passed federal legislation legalizing abortion once and for all. They would not have needed a single Republican vote in Congress to do this, but they would have had to eliminate the undemocratic “filibuster” rule that requires a 60-vote supermajority – a step they are unwilling to take out of concern for the long-term unity of the ruling class. Short of an act of Congress, the White House could have taken dramatic executive action like offering abortion services on federal land in states that passed bans. 

But instead the Democratic Party was content to simply fundraise and urge people to vote for its candidates in November. Biden gave a major speech on October 18 promising that Democrats would pass a bill legalizing abortion if they won expanded majorities in Congress in the midterms. But in light of the Democrats’ total failure to do what is currently in their power to defend abortion rights, why would anyone believe this pledge?

The referendums on abortion rights in several key states shows how the problem is Democratic Party politicians, not the issue itself. For instance, a September opinion poll in Michigan found that 64 percent supported the referendum to guarantee a right to an abortion in the state constitution, but an October 19 opinion poll showed Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer only 2 points ahead of her far right opponent Tudor Dixon. Four of the crucial House races rated by the Cook Political Report as “tossups” are in California, where a referendum to cement abortion rights is taking place that polls around 70 percent support. If the Democrats hold on to these seats, they may very well have increased turnout due to the referendum to thank. 

Right-wing elites stoke bigotry

After the economy, the Republicans’ campaign messaging has focused heavily on promoting racism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. Right-wing attack ads across the country focus on “out of control crime” that can only be remedied through hardline crackdowns implemented by notoriously racist police departments. Others stoke hatred of immigrants from Latin America and condemn fictional “open borders” policies. 

The wave of state-level laws prohibiting schools from teaching the history of racism in America – bans on “Critical Race Theory” – are also a form of midterm campaign messaging positioning Republicans as the party to push back against the movement for Black lives. Likewise, “don’t say gay” laws and attacks on transgender children and their parents are intended to appeal to those who want to turn back the clock on equality. 

This is a classic case of the ultra-rich employing the strategy of divide-and-rule. At a time when the vast majority of people are dealing with major hardships caused by big business’ greed, the right wing is hoping that people will instead focus on oppressed groups that they slander using the most vile bigotry. 

This may have the effect of energizing a section of the Republican Party’s most loyal supporters and bolstering the right wing through increased turnout, engagement and fundraising. But the underlying message is, like the rest of their platform, rejected by the majority. An opinion poll by the Public Religion Research Institute last year found that 76 percent of Americans – including 62 percent of Republicans – support legal protections prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ  people. An Associated Press poll this March found that only 27 percent of people thought that schools “focus too much on racism” and a separate poll last December by the University of Massachusetts Amherst showed just 25 percent of respondents saying they thought schools should not teach about racial inequality at all (outnumbered by the 34 percent who thought schools should teach “a lot” about racial inequality).

Rehearsing to steal the 2024 election

As the political and economic turmoil gripping the country plays out, a major section of the ruling class is pursuing a campaign to fundamentally alter the political system in a way that locks in the domination of the right wing by severely curtailing fundamental democratic rights. The chaos of the 2020 election and its aftermath may very well prove to not be an exceptional crisis, but the beginning of a new era in the political situation where the basic concept of “one person, one vote’ is in danger of being completely done away with. The 2024 presidential election may be a decisive showdown, and the midterm gives the right wing an opportunity to set the stage and test out their main strategies to steal elections.

Once among the lowest-profile electoral contests, races for Secretary of State positions have emerged as a major battleground. A Secretary of State is the top official responsible for administering a state’s elections, and in many cases has considerable influence over how elections are conducted, how votes are tallied and how a winner is ultimately certified. 

A wave of far right conspiracy theorists running on a platform focused on the false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent have risen to prominence as part of an alliance called the America First Secretary of State Coalition. The grouping is led by Jim Marchant, who won the Republican nomination for Secretary of State in the critical swing state Nevada. Two other members of the coalition prevailed in the primary and are now on the November ballot in states that could prove decisive in 2024: Kristina Karamo of Michigan and Mark Finchem of Arizona. Should these candidates prevail, they would be in a position to aid an effort to overturn the results of the election and install a far-right government – in fact, this is the thinly-veiled premise of their entire campaigns.

Another facet of this strategy is to insert far right activists into the administration of the election itself as poll workers. This is meant to serve as an asset in a post-election scenario where the right wing wants to invalidate the results. An October 17 article in the New York Times titled, “Right-Wing Leaders Mobilize Corps of Election Activists” reports that this effort involves, “compiling testimony from G.O.P.-allied poll workers, the temporary employees who run polling places, and poll watchers, the volunteers who monitor operations, to build challenges and contest results … Both Democrats and Republicans have long enlisted poll watchers and workers to oversee voting and planned ahead for disputes. But this year, officials are grappling with the prospect that those efforts may be driven by activists who spread fantastical or debunked theories.”

And as has been a constant theme throughout U.S. history, physical voter intimidation is playing a role as well. The Associated Press wrote in an article titled “Arizona sheriff steps up security around ballot drop boxes” that was published on October 25:

“The sheriff in metropolitan Phoenix said Monday he’s stepped up security around ballot drop boxes after a series of incidents involving people keeping watch on the boxes and taking video of voters after they were apparently inspired by lies about the 2020 election.

“On Friday, deputies responded when two masked people carrying guns and wearing bulletproof vests showed up at a drop box in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb. The secretary of state said her office has [referred] six cases of potential voter intimidation to the state attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as a threatening email sent to the state elections director.

“People watching the boxes and voters showing up to vote have covered their license plates, according to photos shared on social media.”

The right wing is willing to go to extreme lengths, trampling on the basic democratic rights the vast majority of the country rightly feels entitled to in order to force through their deeply unpopular, reactionary and anti-worker program. And the Democratic Party’s complete failure to live up to popular expectations is an irreplaceable element of the right wing’s chilling offensive. The outcome of the midterm election will be another milestone as this historic struggle plays out.

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