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US Election Results Could Impact Foreign Policy

On November 2, US voters will elect a new Congress and public opinion polls indicate that the economy will be the top issue this year. Experts say foreign policy concerns do not appear to be a major factor in the congressional midterm elections. But Republican gains in November could have an impact on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy over the next two years.

There is little doubt the economy will dominate this year's elections. Voters are less focused on the war in Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama wants to begin drawing down U.S. forces by the middle of next year.

"The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake. This transition will begin, because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's," Obama said in August.

Afghanistan remains the Obama administration's top foreign policy challenge, and even though U.S. casualties have increased in recent months, domestic support for the war remains stable, says Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown.

"Interestingly, the groups that are most supportive of the president's war policy are Republicans and conservatives, who are less likely to support anything else on his agenda," claims Brown.

Republican gains in November could solidify support for the Afghan war in the short term. But they could also increase the potential for conflict in Congress if Democrats press for withdrawal of U.S. troops, says American University expert Allan Lichtman.

"So, in fact, if Republicans make gains, particularly at the expense of liberals, that is going to make it easier for Barack Obama to continue to pursue the war in Afghanistan. But ironically it may make it a little tougher for him to begin withdrawing," says Lichtman.

Republican gains in Congress could strengthen the hand of conservatives pushing the president for tougher action against Iran, including a military option. Henry Nau, an expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether current policies are effective.

"I doubt seriously if sanctions are going to bring them around on stopping their nuclear program. That is, of course, Obama's view of the way the world works and they are going to continue to make trouble,” quipped Nau.

Additional conservative voices in Congress could mean more pressure on the president to take a tougher line with Russia, China and North Korea, says Allan Lichtman.

"They will have a much stronger voice and they will be pressuring Obama to be more like George W. Bush, more unilateral, tougher, more willing to use military force, " claims Lichtman.

The most immediate impact of Republican gains in November could be on a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia. Senate ratification requires a two thirds majority and the prospects are uncertain.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.