WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- The 2022 U.S. midterms -- set to be the most expensive non-presidential races in history -- are reaching Election Day, with divided voters concerned about the country's direction.
The high stakes in this year's races have escalated partisan spite at different levels across the United States, causing anxiety about the prospect of greater political tensions and even violence, further illustrating the country's democratic dilemma.
The total cost of state and federal elections in this election cycle is projected to exceed 16.7 billion U.S. dollars, according to a new analysis released by OpenSecrets, a nonprofit finance watchdog based in Washington, D.C..
"No other midterm election has seen as much money at the state and federal levels as the 2022 elections," said Sheila Krumholz, OpenSecrets' executive director. "We're seeing record-breaking totals spent on elections up and down the ballot."
All 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats are up for grabs, as are 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Plus, 36 out of 50 states and three U.S. territories will elect governors. Numerous other state and local elections will also be contested.
Election-related spending at the federal level has already blown past the inflation-adjusted 2018 midterm record of 7.1 billion dollars, the OpenSecrets study found. Republicans are favored to win the House, and it's "a dead heat" for the Senate, according to FiveThirtyEight, an American website that focuses on opinion poll analysis and politics.
"Partisan polarisation has made politics an increasingly zero-sum game," The Economist wrote in an explanatory piece. "Interest groups can expect one party, if elected to power, to promote their interests, and the other to attack them. For corporate and individual campaign donors alike, this has transformed the cost-benefit analysis of campaign finance."
To prevail, many candidates personally attack rather than conduct meaningful policy debates with their opponents, with U.S. media outlets and pundits constantly adding fuel to the rancorous war of words sharply along ideological lines.
Take the close U.S. Senate race in the key swing state of Pennsylvania, one among several other elections likely to determine the control of the chamber in the next two years.
The stakes are so high that U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama made a rare appearance together in Philadelphia on Saturday to rally support for Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, just as former President Donald Trump campaigned for Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate.
However, the Fetterman-Oz matchup resembles a mud-slinging match. While Republicans and conservative news organizations have heavily focused on Fetterman's health, Democrats and liberal media outlets have tried to disqualify Oz by calling into question his expertise and character.
"That a race which politicians and strategists have anticipated for years has become so vapid tells us more about modern American electoral politics than any of the nonstop horserace polling could," Akela Lacy, a politics reporter at American news organization The Intercept, wrote in a story. "Substance is a liability, and the base is everything."
On an early morning in late October, a man broke into U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home, demanded to confront her and attacked her husband. The latter was seriously injured and underwent surgery for a fractured skull.
Rick Klein, political director of ABC News, said that a fair reading of the moment "includes an assessment that stark warnings have materialized -- that politics has grown not just polarized but radicalized to the extent that it's now dangerous for participants in all levels of the process."
U.S. security and law enforcement agencies have recently issued a heightened threat advisory, warning that "following the midterms, 'perceptions' of election fraud could cause violence."
Domestic violent extremism activity leading up to and during the midterms are likely to focus on "election-related infrastructure, personnel, and voters involved in the election process as attractive targets including at publicly accessible locations like polling places, ballot drop-box locations, voter registration sites, campaign events, and political party offices," the bulletin read.
Nearly nine in 10 Americans -- 88 percent -- are concerned that political divisions have intensified to the point that there's an increased risk of politically motivated violence in the United States, according to a poll conducted by ABC News and Washington Post.
By contrast, asking which political party is more to blame for this risk produces a closely divided, intensely partisan result: 31 percent blame the Republican Party, 25 percent blame the Democratic Party, and 32 percent blame both parties equally. A mere 11 percent don't blame either or both.
While the economy is the most critical issue for American voters nationally, partisans don't weigh it equally.
According to Gallup, the issue leads Republicans' and independents' priority lists, while the economy remains a mid-tier issue for Democrats. Abortion ranks first on the Democrats' list, closely followed by climate change.
Specifically, the top three election issues for Republicans are the economy, immigration and crime; for independents, the economy, abortion and crime; and for Democrats, abortion, climate change and gun policy.
Betty Franklin, a Republican voter from Virginia, told Xinhua that she's concerned about the economy and schools.
James Owens, a Democratic supporter from Pennsylvania, said that he wants Republicans to prioritize "saving democracy," adding a divided Congress or federal government would mean nothing moves forward in the next two years.
Renowned American pollster John Zogby told reporters that "overall, the United States and its voters are in a very sour mood," but "there will be different folks blaming different folks."
Cynthia Wang, a clinical professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, said, "it's not just that people only trust or associate with their own side."
"It's that they're contemptuous of the other side, whom they see as 'other' and less moral -- an existential threat," Wang noted. "This rise in out-group hate is what we find so alarming."
This will be the first election affected by the redistricting that followed the 2020 census -- every 10 years, states redraw their legislative and congressional district lines following a census.
But sometimes the process is used to draw maps that put a thumb on the scale to manufacture election outcomes detached from voters' preferences, critics said. Rather than voters choosing their representatives, "gerrymandering" empowers politicians to choose their voters.
"One of the most consequential outcomes of this redistricting cycle has been the continuing decrease in the number of competitive congressional districts," Michael Li and Chris Leaverton of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law pointed out.
"All told, there are now fewer competitive districts than at any point in the last 52 years," they wrote in an analysis. "If the good news is that both parties emerged with reasonable opportunities in coming years to win control of a closely divided House, the bad news is that they will fight that battle on the narrowest of terrains under maps artificially engineered to reduce competition."
"American democracy was never designed to be democratic," wrote American critic and essayist Louis Menand in a piece published in The New Yorker earlier this year.
"The partisan redistricting tactics of cracking and packing aren't merely flaws in the system -- they are the system," Menand continued, stressing that the American government has never been a government "by the people." ■