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Back to the Days of Little House on the Prairie?
- The Composition of American Politics as Seen from the Midterm Elections

Hiroshi Imamura
Professor,Social Sciences, Waseda University

A Crushing Blow for the Democratic Party

As expected, the Republican Party won the U.S. midterm elections by a landslide. No one is boasting foresight at this point, but it was obvious that the Republican Party would gain much momentum this time. This is because approximate estimates of the total number of voters in this year's primary elections showed nineteen million for the Republican Party and fifteen million for the Democratic Party. I've never seen anything like this before. It might even be the first time this has ever happened. This shows how active the supporters of the Republican Party were.

But the incumbent party traditionally loses some seats during midterm elections. Over the last hundred years, there have only been two out of fifty midterm elections where the number of seats in the incumbent party increased. So as for the Democratic Party, they can view it as par for the course if their number of seats decreases. The Democratic Party's defeat this year, however, was a devastating one, even taking such points into consideration.

Surprisingly Significant State Legislatures

What was particularly striking was not Congress, but rather the elections for state governor and state legislator. Essentially, the number of state legislators can be said to reflect the basic physical fitness for both parties. The state legislatures are also where the talent pool for Congress can be found. In fact, forty-three people-comprising half of the new members of congress who were elected this year-had previous experience as state legislators. But that is not all. In the United States, a national census is held every ten years in years ending in zero, according to the Christian calendar. The seats of federal congressmen are to be reallocated to each state based on the results of this census. Zoning is then conducted for the electoral districts to be used in each state for the next ten years until the next national census-or in other words, for the next five Lower House elections. Although the procedures for zoning differ from state to state, on the whole, state legislatures and governors play significant roles. In the last election, precisely this zoning was used in appointing the state legislatures and governors. The majority party and governors of the state legislatures quite blatantly carried out gerrymandering-divisions that were advantageous to their own party and disadvantageous to the opposing party. This is the prize in the election game, so while it may be an exaggeration to say that the results of the state legislature and gubernatorial elections that are held on years ending in zero in the Christian calendar define the areas of power in Congress, they certainly do have enormous influence.

Major Gains for the Republican Party in the State Legislatures

In the United States, there are ninety-eight houses in the legislatures of forty-nine states, excluding Nebraska, which takes a nonpartisan stance. The Democratic Party had had a majority of fifty-nine seats, but this year, the Republican Party was able to win six hundred and seventy-five seats gaining a majority of fifty-five seats. The majority Democratic Party has 38 seats, with two states evenly split between both parties, and the rest have not yet been determined. Let us then take a look at how both parties govern in their various states along with the gubernatorial election, in which the Republican Party did well, as in Congress. Governing in state politics runs smoothly if a majority in both houses of the state legislature is obtained and the governor represents an independent party. Governing is divided if any of these three elements are won by the opposition party. Before the election there were sixteen Democrat-controlled states, nine Republican-controlled states, and twenty-four states under divided rule. After the election, the number of Republican-controlled states doubled and grew to twenty while the number of Democrat-controlled states dropped to eleven, with the remaining seventeen states under divided rule.

Shifts in Points of Issue Brought About by the Tea Party Movement

Now, let us examine the Tea Party movement, which attracted much attention during the election. It seems to have started around last spring originally as a spontaneous movement, and it has been spurred into a nationwide organization this year. Although this movement is conservative in the context of American politics, it cannot be defined in simple terms because it is organized in a non-hierarchical structure. The party can be described, however, as having middle-aged and older Caucasian males as its base, and as mainly deriving its momentum from a dislike and fear of big government.

Although somewhat rowdy, the participants of this movement share common principles, which, put simply, value self-reliance and mutual assistance. Their collective feeling toward government could be expressed as, "Mind your own business and leave us alone." This is the voice of the individual speaking to the government. In any case, they feel an emotion that in a sense transcends logic and makes them want to keep the government out of their affairs. Tea party members don't want the government to be involved in their lives, even to do good things. There are times when this sounds selfish. Opposition to reforms in the medical insurance system, which is aimed at universal healthcare, comes from factors such as the uncertain financial resources and the complexity of institutional designs while also being backed by the frank and straightforward question of "Why should I have to pay the medical bills of total strangers?" Perhaps their idea of a perfect society is like the one in "Little House on the Prairie," where their own property covers the entire land and stretches out beyond the horizon.

That is why points of issue that have been the basis of confrontation between conservatives and liberals-such as sociocultural points of issue, questions about homosexuality, the separation of church and state, gun control, and whether or not special measures (affirmative action) are to be taken on racial and gender disparities-seem to have disappeared at least from the surface in recent years in the United States. In other words, there is a regression back to conflicts surrounding the size of government and the range of government intervention that have not been seen since the New Deal programs. It is either that or the sociocultural points of issue that suddenly emerged in the 1970's have been totally cut off from conservative-liberal confrontations. This may just be a temporary phenomenon or it may be too early to tell, but it is certain that the significance of the composition of American politics having been redefined during a nationwide selection is not a minor one.

Hiroshi Imamura
Professor, Social Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Mie Prefecture in 1954
Finished the Doctoral Course in the the Graduate School of Political Science at Waseda University

[Literary Works]
Co-editedor: "The Dispersion and Integration of Enormous State Power"[Kyodaikokka no Bunsan to Togo], "Who Are the Ones That Become Politicians"[Dare ga Seijika ni Narunoka]
Coauthored: "Democracy in a World of Turning Points" (forthcoming)