You’re at a party. And someone brings up American politics.
You could run to the bathroom and start Googling. Or you could try and think of something profound to say based on something that you saw on The West Wing or Scandal.
Or you could just read this explanation of what happened overnight in the US midterm elections – and know why it matters.
In two sentences, what happened?
The Republicans (the American political party that reflects conservative views and is focused on individual rights) have won control of the Senate in America’s midterm elections and expanded their majority in the House of Representatives.
The Republicans now rule both houses of the US Parliament, but the leader of the country, President Obama, is a Democrat.
Young Republicans are loving it.
What does that mean for the US?
The Republicans will now be able to pass legislation through both houses of Congress (ie, Parliament) more easily. But the Senate in the US does more than just pass laws. It also has the power to approve or reject the judges, cabinet members, political staff, and diplomats that the White House appoints – so the Republicans will now have this extra power.
What the Republicans won’t be able to do is pass bills without President Obama’s signature. They didn’t get the two-thirds majority that would allow them to pass a law, even if the President vetos it.
What does that mean for President Obama?
The President was not up for election, but he is a Democrat. So when the Democrats take a hit in the polls, then people tend to blame the President. President Obama stayed away from mid-term election campaigning because opinion polls show that he is a bit on the nose and he only has two years left in his Presidency (in the US, you can only be a President for a maximum of two four-year terms).
President Obama’s popularity is the lowest it has been since 2008, and he has been criticised over his handling of the Islamic State insurgency, immigration reforms and the US Ebola cases. He has also taken fire over perceived ineffectiveness – mostly due to many of his major reforms being stalled in the House of Representatives, which has been dominated by the Republicans (in this sense, the Republicans have had a win in painting the President as lacking leadership, even though they were the ones frustrating his reform efforts).
The party that a President belongs to normally loses seats at the midterm election – but the Democrats’ loss is the biggest since the Second World War.