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Why America will vote Republican

Put yourself in the shoes of the average American

As America heads to the polls, the Republicans are set to win the House of Representatives. With a little luck, they will carry the Senate too, giving them a chokehold on the remaining years of the Biden presidency. To an audience in Britain, whose primary exposure to American politics tends to come from a Democratic slant, this can be startling: what about January 6th? What about Roe v Wade? What about Donald Trump’s latest statement?

All of this can be explained relatively simply. Take a look at the 2016 and 2020 elections, and an obvious pattern emerges. The Red votes came from places where the jobs had gone. They came from people who felt disrespected by a liberal movement which frequently expressed outright contempt for their values. They came from areas which lost out from globalisation, which lost out from economic change, and which have watched the country they love change into something moulded according to values not their own. These voters can be found across America, but we’ll go with Steve from Ohio. Steve is in his early 40s. He works a blue collar job, drives a pretty large car, is married, has kids. Steve is a pretty normal guy. And Steve is going to vote Republican. 

This really shouldn’t be that surprising to you. From 2016-2019, real wages grew steadily. The poverty rate was at an all time low. Inflation was around 2 per cent, well under control. The economy was growing at 2 and a half per cent a year, unemployment was at its lowest rate in 50 years, the stock market was growing. From Steve’s perspective, these were pretty good years to be working in America; prices were stable, wages were high, it was easy to find work. And then a researcher did something unspeakable to a bat in Wuhan, and everything fell apart. 

Now the Democrats are in office, and Steve is suddenly doing much worse. Joe Biden has pushed massive fiscal stimulus into an economy where supply was tightly constrained, sending inflation soaring to 8.5 per cent, the highest rate in 40 years. Growth has been so poor the economy even dipped briefly into a technical recession. Gas prices are at record highs, and you think it’s partly because Biden has worked to discourage investment in capacity.

Things were good, now they are bad

At this point, it’s worth briefly pausing. You may believe that Trump isn’t to credit for all the economic good of his tenure, and that Biden can hardly be blamed for the lingering effects of the pandemic on oil prices, or the war in Ukraine. You may even have some evidence to the contrary. But remember: you’re meant to be an average voter. Things were good, now they are bad. The President has undoubtedly contributed to some of today’s problems, just as his predecessor made contributions to the positives of yesterday. Are you really going to reward this guy with your vote?

Remember: we’ve all seen and felt how painful inflation has been in Britain. Now picture going through a similar experience in a country without such an effective safety net. Your wages were rising; now they’re falling. The economy was growing; now it’s stagnant. The Republicans are standing there telling you that if you vote for them, they’ll work to constrain government spending, to shrink the size of the state, to stop the stimulus, to bring the inflation down. That’s pretty tempting. 

And that’s before we come to crime. It’s easy to assume that crime in America is much like crime here. It isn’t. America is a spectacularly violent country. Its murder rate is nearly 7.8 per 100,000 people, shooting up in 2020 and then rising again even after the pandemic. In Britain it’s 1.

The FBI says that violent crime fell fractionally while murders — the most reliable indicator — kept rising. But its data doesn’t include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other massive cities with high levels of violence. And where is this violence occurring? In red states, yes, but in blue cities like St Louis and Kansas City, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In the largest US cities, the homicide rate is 16 per 100,000 in cities with democratic mayors. It’s 9 in areas with Republicans running the show. 

It’s not just that crime is high, it’s that it’s scary. You’ve seen videos of men shoving people onto subway tracks, punching strangers for fun, losing arguments and returning with gunfire. Crime is a losing issue for the Democrats because their policies are seen to encourage it; attempting decarceration or calling for the defunding of police forces is not going to win sympathy from Steve. Even though he’s quite unlikely to have seen any real increase in crime, he doesn’t want to risk it.

And just as the number of channel crossings presents a stick with which to beat the government, the USA also has immigration problems. On America’s southern border, the number of illegitimate migrants shot up the moment Biden took office, driven in part by his failed attempts to give legal status to 11 million undocumented migrants. The US debate on this issue is spectacularly toxic, but there is nothing illegitimate about wanting to enforce the borders you have. An administration seen to shrug its shoulders at the responsibility is asking for trouble.

So now put yourselves in Steve’s shoes. The only things that seem to be rising are inflation and crime. Would you vote for another round of this? Or would you vote to bring it back under control?

Until Pope John Paul II, it was a long-standing tradition in the Catholic Church that any candidate for canonization – any person who might become a saint – should be argued against. This role fell to the Promoter of the Faith, a canon lawyer tasked with highlighting the moral flaws of the potential saint, poking holes in their evidence, arguing that their miracles did not take place or were cunning deceits. This role was popularly known as the Devil’s advocate. In the interests of good process, even the Devil is entitled to his representation.

In Britain, explaining why people are likely to vote Republican is much like arguing the case for the Devil. You won’t persuade people it’s ever a good idea, but you can at least plant a few seeds of doubt. 

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