Spending has set a record in the US elections for 435 House of Representatives seats, 35 Senate seats, 39 Governorships and 87 State legislature houses that will be held on November 6. According to analysis of the Washington-based advocacy group Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP), spending by candidates, parties, support groups of various kinds and dark money sources is expected to reach $5.2 billion. This estimate is based on mandatory filings with the Federal Election Commission till October 17, and projections for the last two weeks of splurging by candidates locked in one of the most bitterly contested elections.
Meanwhile, opinion polls are predicting a very tight race with Democrats possibly snatching away House majority and Republicans retaining the Senate. Early voting in record numbers – about 35 million voters have already cast their votes – also has got political pundits scratching their heads.
Less than two weeks before election day, $4.7 billion has already been spent. Prior to this election cycle, no mid-term election had crossed $4.2 billion in spending when adjusted for inflation. The 2018 elections have seen a 35% increase over 2014 elections in nominal terms, the largest increase in two decades.
In the face of a bruising campaign by the Republicans, led by President Donald Trump himself, there has been an unprecedented increase in Democratic Party spending, outstripping the Republicans till now. Democrats have spent $2.5 billion this cycle comparedwith $2.2 billion spent by the Republicans. Official party expenditure shows that $738 million was spent on campaigns across the country, while the Republican Party has spent $694 million. Candidate and other spending is separate from this.
Spending from “dark money” groups — groups that do not disclose their donors with the FEC — is down this cycle, with nearly $128 million spent. In 2014, dark money spending was higher at nearly $178 million. However, disclosures by outside groups (groups from outside the state) on spending are 57.4%, which is less than in 2016 Presidential election (72.2%). The percentage of funds from “partially-disclosed” groups — which either don’t reveal all of their donors or take money from dark money groups — has risen to 31% from 15% in 2016.
The high levels of partial disclosure suggest that dark money is not disappearing, but rather is being funnelled through super PACs and other outside spending groups that give the appearance of disclosing their donors, CRP analysis pointed out.
An interesting highlight of big money donations is that several industrial lobbies are seen to be shifting from Republicans to Democrats in the last 2-3 weeks of the cycle. For example, CPR data shows that oil & gas donated only 12% to Democrats in the past 21 months before October 2018, but since October 1, their donations to Democrats have jumped to 26%. Similar shifts in other industry segments can be seen: insurance (39% to 52%), real estate (47% to 57%), finance, 49% to 70%), securities and investments (52% to 71%), health professionals (56% to 77%) and retail (39% to 60%). The only segment of donors where contribution to Democrats has declined is “retired” where it shrank from 53% to 44%.
The elections have been marked by the polarisation, characteristic of the Trump era with dominant issues being immigration, healthcare, women’s rights and the economy. Recent better economy numbers (GDP growth, less unemployment) have boosted Trump despite his hard Right wing and chauvinistic propaganda. The Democrats on the other side have been fighting a do or die battle wanting a mandate which will repudiate Trump and all that he stands for. But whether they will succeed or not is still not clear.
Opinion polls show that on the eve of elections, Democrats may win 203 House seats while Republicans may get 194, with 38 seats being unpredictable (called ‘tossups’). In the current House, Democrats hold 193 seats while Republicans have 235 seats, with seven vacancies.
In the 35 Senate seats going to polls, opinion polls are predicting 20 seats for Democrats and seven for Republicans with eight seats declared tossups. Adding these to the existing 65 Senators, the Senate strength will become 43 Democrats, 49 Republicans and eight tossups. The present Senate has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (which include two Independents that go with the Democrats).
As far as Governors of States go, currently there are 33 Republican and 16 Democrat governors with one Independent. Opinion polls are predicting that these elections will see 20 Republicans, 18 Democrats elected while 12 Governorships are tossups.
Pollsters are being very careful in making predictions this year after the debacle of 2016 Presidential elections in which all surveys were reporting that Hillary Clinton was winning but Donald Trump actually took away the crown.