It is two weeks before the U.S. midterm elections that are taking place on Tuesday, 8 November 2022, in which all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. President Joe Biden’s governing majorities are on the line in the coming midterm elections with voters to determine whether to give Biden’s Democratic Party another two years of unilateral control of the Congress or change its makeup to being more equitable and diverse.
Many experts have already cast their votes predicting that the upcoming midterm elections are going to be critical, with a high turnout that is likely to shake up the political landscape with the Republicans gaining control of both chambers and possibly determining Biden’s political survival. While Biden’s name is not on the ballots, it is a common trend for midterms to be seen as a referendum on the president and his party’s performance. Professor Alan Abramowitz believes that, “The midterms are, at least partly, a referendum on the performance of the current president.”
President Biden took office in January 2021, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. His term has been marked by economic turbulence caused by the virus as well as his own mismanagement of the economy. The rate of inflation was only 1.3% when he took office in January 2021, but jumped to 7% by the end of the year. In late May 2022, Biden’s disapproval rating hit as high as 59%, almost a doubling from March, 2021, when it stood at 35%.
His unpopularity continues but is undulating insofar as in some months he is less or more popular. But one thing is for sure, his approval rating stayed close to the lowest level of his presidency as the economy and education continue to be the top issues driving voters’ decisions for the 2022 midterm elections.
On October 24, FiveThirtyEight found that 54% of Americans disapprove of Biden, the findings were a conclusion of different pollsters on the subject “How unpopular is Joe Biden.” American Research Group reported a 55% disapproval, while for Pulse Opinion Research and Ipsos the figure stood at 54% with Pew Research Center at 62%.
In mid-October, Morning Consult conducted a public opinion poll and its results showed that 78% of Americans are worried about the economy, followed by education at 52%, and gun policy in third place at 51%.
In August, Pew Research Center Poll, found that foreign policy is not on the top of voters’ priority, whereas 77 percent rated the economy as very important. On October 18, Reuters-Ipsos opinion poll found that only 40% of Americans approve of Biden’s performance.
Is the Russian invasion of Ukraine still a top priority for the U.S. Voters?
Biden’s popularity was boosted as a result of his administration’s support for Ukraine. In March 2022, a month after the Russian troops invaded Ukraine, polls showed that 56% of all American voters said the issue of Russia’s invasion is “very important” when deciding for whom to vote in the midterm elections. For Democratic voters the figure stood at 64% and for Republicans it was 54%, according to figures published by Morning Consult.
However, as the war progressed and started fueling a cost-of-living crisis, people around the globe started coming under immense economic pressure as result of Western sanctions in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In April 2022, the head of the IMF warned that the war in Ukraine was creating a risk of shortages and social instability across the globe by driving higher prices. The second major area where the continued war is driving the cost-of-living crisis is energy. Russia is a major player in global energy markets, and is one of the world’s top three producers of crude oil and is home to approximately a quarter of the planet’s known natural gas reserves.
The EU, UK and US decided to impose a ban on Russian oil in a bid to hamstring Putin’s ability to finance the war. However, it backfired on them by causing energy prices to soar. Oil prices shot up, reaching 118 to 116 Euro per barrel by March 8, 2022.
In April, the World Bank forecast that average energy prices would jump by 50% this year, making it the biggest increase since the 1970s. Statista Brent Crude oil price figures for October 17, 2022, show that the average crude oil price is USD$104.85 per barrel, while in 2021 it was a $70.68, and before the coronavirus pandemic it stood at $41.96,
The majority of Americans supported the actions taken by the Biden administration in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, this support started waning as households across America began to feel the effects of the rising cost of living. As mentioned above, initially 56% of all voters wanted Biden making Russia a high priority. But by early September the support went all the way down to 29%, but rose a few percent by early October to 34%.
In all polls conducted across United States the priority of the Russian invasion is lagging behind the bread-and-butter issues for ordinary Americans, such as putting food on the table and heating the home. On October 15, Morning Consult reported that only 37% of all voters see the Russian invasion issue as important. The breakdown is on party lines: 47% of Democratic voters see this issue as important compared to Republican voters, of whom 28% see it as an important factor when deciding who to vote for.
The United States has already spent more than £60 Billion on economic and military aid to Ukraine since the country was invaded by the Russians. Last week, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy warned that his party members will not write “a blank check” to Ukraine if they win control of the lower chamber. McCarthy said, “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it (…). Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do [referring to Biden administration] and it can’t be a blank check.”
OPEC+ Oil Production Cuts and the Arrogant Drivel Coming from the U.S.
On Wednesday, 5 October, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC Plus) led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that it would cut its oil production by 2 million barrels per day, an output equal to 2% of global supply. This is the biggest slash in production since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
The OPEC+ decision led the relations between two close allies, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, to plunge to their lowest point in decades. The U.S. administration called the OPEC+ decision shortsighted and fired off a number of threatening statements to the effect that it was considering abandonment of its 77 years of partnership with Saudi Arabia. “The President is disappointed by the shortsighted decision by OPEC+ to cut production quotas while the global economy is dealing with the continued negative impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” the White House said.
On October 11, John Kirby, the spokesman for U.S. National Security Council, claimed Saudi Arabia played a critical role in that production cut. Adding that it is “a shortsighted decision that benefited Russia, at time when nobody in any capacity should be trying to benefit Vladimir Putin.”
The Saudis were enraged by what they saw as America’s disrespectful tone and said the West was often driven by the “arrogance of wealth” when criticizing the OPEC+ group. It also insisted that the move was prompted by a market decision and rejected the allegation it was intended to target Biden’s administration. The Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said OPEC+ had needed be pro-active as central banks around the world moved to “belatedly” tackle soaring inflation with higher interest rates.
There is no doubt that the oil production cuts will likely to push up global oil prices, affecting Democrat electoral prospects alongside delivering a blow to Biden, in view of the fact that American voters see the economy as the number one important issue facing the country.
However, the OPEC+ group stated the reason behind the cut is financially motivated. One can describe it as a ‘sell more for less strategy.’ After all, the OPEC+ countries are the top oil exporters and even if America or the West don’t agree with their decision or its timing, it is within their right to control at least to some extent the global oil market, and be ‘allowed’ to pursue their own policies even if those policies are not beneficial to the Biden administration’s interests.
The Biden administration has said that the reason for wanting a lowering of oil prices was in a bid to deprive Putin of oil revenue to finance his war in Ukraine. But surely, this should not be at the cost of OPEC+ countries and it is absurd that Biden would expect OPEC+ to help improve his approval ratings by damaging their own economic prospects.
It is understandable that Biden is not happy about the OPEC+ decision but the use of undiplomatic and rude language coming from the Biden’s handlers and U.S lawmakers about reconsidering its longtime security-based relationship with the Kingdom is not helpful.
The U.S. - Saudi relationship goes back almost eight decades, and although oil is an important aspect of it, there are many other elements which are equally as important as oil such as the Saudi counterweight to the Iranian threat and its expansion in the Middle East region, as well as intelligence cooperation and bringing peace and stability to the region. Biden’s threatening tone of opting for retaliation will have negative effects not only on the Saudis, but its aftershocks will also be felt in the already turbulent Middle East Region. This shortsighted and self-centered response will also backfire on the U.S.
The OPEC+ group decision is not aimed at weakening Biden’s standing in the coming midterm elections. “The idea that Saudi Arabia would do this to harm the U.S. or to be in any way politically involved is absolutely not correct at all,” said Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Minister of the State of Foreign Affairs.
As we are getting closer to Tuesday, November 8, a lot of neurotic and whining bluster has been coming from the U.S. such as, “Election interference: oil price hike is Saudi Arabia’s October surprise against Biden,” or “The Saudis are working to get Trump re-elected” or “OPEC+ oil product cuts are out to hurt Americans.” Congressman Ro Khanna of California told the Intercept, “there is no doubt that the Saudi-led OPEC oil production cuts are a strategic effort to hurt Americans at the pump and undermine our work to tackle rising costs (…). It’s clear that Riyadh is seeking to harm the U.S. and this reaffirms the need to reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship.”
One can only wonder if these headlines are an attempt to whitewash or obscure Biden’s own failures since he took office and place the blame on the doorstep of OPEC+ countries. Former President Trump was called a traitor and impeached for asking the Ukraine for a “favor” to help him politically. However, when Biden did the same with the KSA and asked for a delay in production cuts until after the midterms, the Democrat-controlled government not only failed to chastise Biden but instead launched a propaganda war against the Kingdom for not doing the Democrats a “favor.” This is yet another example of the double standards of “American exceptionalism” and the U.S. behaving like a spoiled child when it does not get its way.