Divided congress in a divided country

Divided congress in a divided country

People in front of U.S. flag © Frank May

The new U.S. Congress, with its divided majorities, reflects divisions in society. Legislative gridlock looms in Washington. Catholic vote shifted in favor of Democrats.

U.S. voters have given the country mixed results in the midterm congressional elections. Democrats secured a clear majority of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives with a significant gain of about 35 seats. As it stands, Republicans managed to pick up three seats in the Senate.

The contrasting results of the "midterms" also have to do with Donald Trump, who was nowhere on the ballot but had stylized the campaign into a referendum on his presidency. In the battle for the House of Representatives, Trump's outbursts welded together opposition from women, who ran away from Republicans in large numbers in suburban districts.

Women more represented than ever before

A prime example of the trend is Virginia's tenth congressional district just outside Washington, a classic region of swing voters. Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock, who has represented her district for two terms, lost to Democrat Jennifer Wexton by 13 points.

USA-wide, Democrats managed to flip constituencies like this one. Often, these were districts where Hillary Clinton had also done well in the presidential election. Democrats fielded women in many swing voter districts, now with a total of 100, the strongest representation ever in the House of Representatives.

Republicans won in more rural areas

While Democrats in the House benefited from expanding their position in urban America among women, minorities, and the educated electorate, Republicans benefited from the rural makeup of the states they gained, whose seats they won in the Senate.

Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, with their older, whiter, more rural, more religious and less educated electorates on average, have become reliable Republican strongholds. Moreover, Republicans in the "midterms" benefited from the coincidence that 26 of the 35 senatorial seats up for election were in Democratic hands. Democrats had to defend ten of them in states where Trump clearly won in 2016.

Governing gets harder for Trump

The bottom line is that the outcome of the midterm elections represents a setback for Trump, who must now share the government with Democrats. Legislation or a budget can now only be passed with the blessing of the majority in the House of Representatives. Most importantly, Democrats can now request documents, subpoena government officials and launch investigations. Impeachment proceedings would also run their course in the House of Representatives.

Returning to the top of Congress as "Speaker" will be liberal Catholic Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. She announced her willingness to work with the president on infrastructure, health and anti-corruption ies. Democrats, on the other hand, will not lend money to the wall on the border with Mexico, nor will they support Trump's policies toward immigrants and refugees. In addition, there will no longer be support in the House for restrictions on abortion rights.

More Catholics voted Democrat

Notably, Catholic votes shifted in favor of Democrats. According to post-election polls, Democrats gained five percent to 50 percent among Catholic voters compared to the last "midterms" in 2014. Republicans lost at the same rate, ending up at 49 percent. Catholics made up about a quarter of the electorate, with a significantly higher turnout overall.

White evangelicals, 75 percent of whom supported the Republicans, accounted for another quarter of the vote. The comparatively small Jewish community (2 percent) set itself even further apart from Trump's party after the Pittsburgh massacre. Democrats gained 13 points among Jewish voters to 79 percent. For the first time in Congress, Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are two Muslim women.

In Kentucky, Rowan County Registrar Kim Davis lost her office to a Democrat. Davis had refused to ie same-sex marriage certificates after the Constitutional Court ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage. The nuncio at the time, Carlo Maria Vigano, had arranged a meeting with the controversial woman during the pope's visit to the U.S.

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