As campaigning gets underway ahead of the 2018 US midterm elections, the United States Studies Centre has today released a new report looking at the potential congressional make-up post-November, the impact on the Trump administration's legislative agenda and the implications for Australia.

Co-authors Dougal Robinson and Matilda Steward warn that deeper partisanship and polarisation after the midterms will make bipartisan compromise and stable governance harder to achieve.

"America’s two major parties are moving further apart and are likely to continue to split throughout the midterms. House leaders Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi already face a difficult task reaching bipartisan compromise or even controlling their own caucus," Steward said.

"If Washington becomes more dysfunctional and inwardly distracted, the US government will continue to find it difficult to deliver reliable expenditure for the Pentagon and will face an increased risk of shutdowns."

Robinson noted that the impact of such polarisation will be felt outside of the United States.

"Both parties are becoming more sceptical of multilateral trade agreements, which will continue after the midterms. Consequently, Congress is highly unlikely to support – let alone vote in favour of – US re-entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership," he said.

Key points

  • The midterms will shape the ideological orientation of the Republican Party, which is being remade in President Trump’s image, and the Democratic Party, which is moving further to the left.
  • Deepening polarisation between the two major parties will limit the US government’s ability to reach bipartisan compromises on foreign and defence policy, pass the federal budget on time, and avoid government shutdowns.
  • The midterms will trigger a major turnover in congressional committee chairs; legislators who are relatively unknown to Australia will take the chairman’s gavel on key committees covering foreign relations, trade and defence.

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