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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 10:25 GMT
Analysis: Impact of US election
President George W Bush
The poll will be a test of the president's performance

The American mid-term elections matter hugely to American voters. But do they matter abroad? After all, the White House is not up for grabs.

The elections are called "mid-term" precisely because they are in the middle of the four-year presidential term. And it is the president who has the most impact abroad.

The answer in most years is that they probably do not matter that much, unless there is some movement of the political plates and an earthquake results.

This year, they probably do matter.

Although these elections usually hinge on domestic issues, this time the country is engaged in the 'war on terror' and faces the prospect of war with Iraq.

Open in new window : US poll results
Click here for a state-by-state guide to seats

To an extent, therefore, the vote was a referendum on President Bush. It will been seen as a signal by the Americans as to whether they think he is on the right track internationally or whether he should be paying more attention to the bread-and-butter issues.

He could emerge with his hand strengthened for war or worried about covering his back with domestic issues for the election in 2004.

Senate seats
Democrats: 49
Republicans: 49
Independents: 2

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in early October showed that voters were in two minds as to which matters more - economic conditions or the possibility of war.

House seats
Republicans: 223
Democrats: 208
Independents: 1(Three vacant)
They were the two biggest issues mentioned. They were each cited by a quarter of those polled, with terrorism in third place.

Before the elections, Philip John Davies, Professor of American Studies at de Montfort University and Chairman of the British Association for American Studies described the elections as important and possibly crucial.

"Mid-terms tend not to get a lot of coverage but this time there is the potential for a generational impact," he said.

"The Republicans hope to regain the Senate and maintain control of the House. If they add these to a very popular Republican president, we would have the three institutions under the control of one party, which has hardly happened in the last 40 years.

"This could be the start of such a period.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton out-manoeuvred his opponents in Congress
"If the Republicans achieve that, it makes it much easier for them to pursue their agenda and given the significance of the international agenda post 9/11, this would have an impact internationally.

"It would make the president much stronger," he said.

It would also strengthen his hand across a range of international economic issues - such as trade, the environment and the international financial institutions as well as, importantly, the United Nations.

The Republican view tends to be hard-nosed about such institutions and issues. International co-operation, so longed for by the Europeans and yet regarded by Republicans as international interference, could be resisted.

Crucial for Bush

But there could be a downside for President Bush once the all the elections results are in, according to Robert McGeehan, academic co-ordinator at the Institute of US Studies at the University of London.

"The president has not done as good a job as he could have in justifying his position on Iraq and politicians loathe to be seen opposing him before the elections could be more critical of him once they have got their seats," he said. "This is why Mr Bush got the congressional resolution supporting him before the mid-terms."

Robert McGeehan also thinks the elections will matter if the Republicans win both Houses of Congress.

"It will help Mr Bush position himself for 2004 and he will find it easier to get his domestic legislation through. He doesn't want to repeat his father's mistake."

George Bush senior lost the 1992 election after winning the Gulf War in 1991 because voters felt he had ignored their domestic interests.


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