What were the top 10 political stories of 2018 across the globe?
From the United States to Australia and everywhere in between, this was an interesting, sometimes stressful, and other times mind-blowing year in politics and elections. As 2018 comes to a close, we look back at some of the most significant stories produced, good, bad, indifferent, or none of the above.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #10: Ireland Legalizes Abortion and Blasphemy
Once one of the most traditionally conservative countries in the world, Ireland has taken some sharp turns to the left in the past few years alone. In 2015, the Irish people passed a same-sex marriage referendum with 62 percent of the vote. Voters were faced with two more controversial public policy issues in 2018: referenda to legalize abortion and to remove blasphemy as an offense punishable under the nation’s constitution.
When the votes were held, both measures passed. The abortion referendum, resulting in the 36th Amendment to Ireland’s constitution, passed with 66.4 of the vote in May. As for the blasphemy plebiscite, the 37th Amendment, that came in October and it got the support of 64.85 percent of voters. Turnout for the second was much lower, but the point was made. The incumbent president, Michael D. Higgins, did not publicly comment, but many of the presidential candidates from 2018 supported both measures. (Link: The Journal)
Our job at Electionarium is not to delve into the morality or immorality of these topics. We report that they happened, and you can take from it anything you wish. The objective reality is that Ireland voted for both of these changes, signaling a continued and rapid shift in its politics. Ireland’s Fine Gael government has been front and center in pushing much of this agenda during their time in office which began in 2011.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #9: AMLO Elected Mexican President
In July of this year, Mexico elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, to its presidency. It is not just significant in that he won in a landslide, or that he swept a large number of National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) deputies into the Congress with him. AMLO’s election signalled a major change in Mexican politics away from the traditional paradigm.
For nine decades, Mexican presidents came from one of two parties: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or National Action Party (PAN). PRI is, as its name suggests, the more institutional political party, having ruled Mexico for 78 out of those past 90 years. PAN getting elected with Vicente Fox in 2000 was a huge change for their country, resulting in a one-party state becoming a two-party state. Now, with AMLO and MORENA getting into power, there is a third option which was previously nothing more than an also-ran in its prior iterations.
The new president’s politics also spell change. AMLO is seen as a politician from the left, though throughout his career in elected office, he has supported some pro-business and law-and-order policy initiatives.
As for relations with the country to the north, Mexico has not been thrilled with the United States in recent times, but Obrador’s relationship with Trump is — er, so far pretty good? (Link: Washington Post) Hey, it’s 2018, why should anything surprise you anymore?
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #8: Australia Deposes Another Prime Minister
Australia throws prime ministers out of office as a routine matter these days. It all started with Labor and Kevin Rudd’s “Et tu, Brutus” moment back in 2010, but since then, the right-leaning Liberals have gotten into the action as well. Following Rudd’s election in 2007, Australia has changed prime ministers five more times, and they did it again in 2018. Malcolm Turnbull, who himself took out a sitting prime minister in a leadership challenge, lost a party room vote in August.
While the Liberals were in opposition years ago, Turnbull deposed a Liberal leader in a coup, which was the true start of ongoing leadership instability. In 2018, having regained the leadership, he was challenged by Peter Dutton on the right of the party. Turnbull was made to stand down as chief of the Liberal Party, but Dutton did not win the ensuing ballot — Scott Morrison, Australia’s treasurer, did. Morrison became the new prime minister on August 24, 2018, and his task now? Prevent the Liberal-National coalition from getting rocked in the 2019 general election.
Similar leadership turmoil proved fatal to the Labor government in 2013, who lost that poll in a rout, and now the Liberals face a wave of discontent of their own. Some blame the landslide Liberal loss in Victoria in November in part on the ongoing federal drama.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #7: US Senator John McCain Dies
It does not often make news around the world when a member of the United States Congress dies, but in the case of John McCain, it was bound to happen. Arizona’s senior senator passed away one day after the Australia story, August 25.
A senator since 1987, succeeding the indomitable arch-conservative Barry Goldwater, McCain made a name for himself as a maverick. It was not unusual to see the senator bucking the Republican status quo and attempting to work across party lines. One of the highlights of his career was his nomination for president in 2008, an election which he lost to Barack Obama.
His passing was noted by such sitting world leaders as Emmanuel Macron, president of France, Scott Morrison, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel. The typical senator does not get such an outpouring of condolences from around the globe, which leads one to believe McCain was not a typical senator. He was one of the most prominent figures in Congress in his day.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #6: Yellow Vests Movement in France Causes A Stir
Speaking of Emmanuel Macron, starting in November 2018, he began dealing with a new problem on the domestic front. The Yellow Vests Movement started with protests in mid-November over angst regarding fuel taxes. These were set to go up in 2019 on Macron’s watch.
Demonstrations sparked among certain middle and working-class French citizens, that continue at the time of this writing at the end of 2018. Some protests blocked public roadways and some caused violence, but all got the attention of the French government. In addition to pausing the planned increase of the fuel tax, an increase in the minimum wage was also promised, among other things.
While the protest has grown beyond its beginnings into a movement making more sweeping social and political demands, it has taken a further toll on Macron’s popularity. As of early December, the president’s approval rating stood at just 23 percent, just a year and a half after being swept into office. (Link: Bloomberg) France is not a country that has been in love with its recent presidents, but the plummeting of Macron’s poll numbers so early in his term is a word of warning to politicians everywhere that just because the people liked you yesterday does not mean they will tomorrow.
Truth be told, Macron was unpopular before the Yellow Vests Movement began. He is seen by some to be out of touch, and perhaps out of time to make things right, to bring up Hall and Oates. These events, however, have only helped solidify public opinion.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #5: Jair Bolsonaro Elected Brazilian President
Americans watched in the United States in 2016 as a well-funded (as in, wealthy) political outsider won the presidency riding on a populist wave. In 2018, Brazil saw a once-obscure congressman without a fraction of Donald Trump’s wealth catch a ride on that populist wave, becoming the new president of Brazil.
His name is Jair Bolsonaro, and one of the world’s largest countries executed a swing to the right in electing him. Brash, opinionated, and tough-talking, some drew parallels to Trump right away. It remains to be seen how his presidency will go, but there are major differences between Bolsonaro’s rise and Trump’s. Within the last few years, Brazil saw its president, Dilma Rousseff, get impeached and removed from office. Her replacement, Michel Temer, has approval ratings that would make Emmanuel Macron gasp. Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva, is in prison. Corruption is rampant and the incumbent Workers’ Party (PT) is blamed for much of it.
Bolsonaro converted the public anger at the broken political system into votes. So did Trump, to a degree, but do you see any former American presidents in jail right now? This was at its core a throw-the-bums-out campaign from a man who promised law and order as well as stability. His very conservative social views have gotten him attention, good and bad, but one thing we know for sure is that Brazil is in for something new starting in 2019.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #4: Former US President George HW Bush Dies
The passing of a former American president is always major international news, and such was the case on November 30 with the loss of George HW Bush, the nation’s 41st president.
Bush, a decorated war hero with a public sector resume a mile long, served in the White House from 1989 to 1993. He was Ronald Reagan’s vice president for eight years, which followed such other posts as Liaison to China, United Nations ambassador, head of the CIA, and chairman of the Republican National Committee. His defeat against Bill Clinton in a three-way race in 1992 ended 12 years of Republican presidency.
Domestic and world leaders, past and present, went to Washington for the state funeral. Five presidents and five vice presidents, Prince Charles, John Major, Angela Merkel, Lech Walesa, and many others attended.
Bush’s was the first presidential passing since Gerald Ford in 2006.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #3: Brett Kavanaugh Confirmed to US Supreme Court
This was an easy choice for the top 10 political stories of the year. Presidential nominations to the United States Supreme Court do not go unnoticed; it is not that they are rare occurrences, but unlike the Super Bowl, it does not happen every year. At least, unless you are Donald Trump, who filled two Supreme Court vacancies in his first two years in office.
His first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, had a relatively easy time compared to who came next. There was opposition to Gorsuch from Democrats and the left in general, though there would have been similar opposition to anyone Trump nominated. This came at a time when Democrats believed Merrick Garland should have been a justice, but the Republican Senate sat on his 2016 nomination until Obama’s term expired. In the end, Gorsuch got 45 votes against but was still confirmed by the Senate. For purposes of comparison, none of George W. Bush or Barack Obama’s nominees got this many votes in opposition.
That discord was nothing compared to that surrounding the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. A Yale graduate, a Federal District Court judge, and a social conservative, this nomination started out like any other. It was not long, however, before accusations of past sexual assaults came to the surface, and in total, three women accused Kavanaugh. As the judge denied them all with passion, this took the controversy over his nomination to another level and Americans became deeply divided. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee turned into a political circus, covering everything from his alleged past transgressions from calendars he kept in the 1980s to corroborate his whereabouts. Contentious is a great word to describe the attitude in Washington and beyond, with the world taking notice of the proceedings.
While Democrats called for a more comprehensive FBI investigation, the nomination eventually proceeded to a vote. When placed in front of the full Senate on October 6, Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50-48 vote, one of the closest affirmative confirmation votes in history. Protestors interrupted the Senate vote numerous times, but it ended and he got to the Supreme Court with his swearing in later that day. So ended one of the most rancorous Supreme Court nominations in American history, or at least in the modern day.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #2: The US Midterm Elections and Democrats Retaking the US House
Donald Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016 stunned many political observers. It also stunned many Democrats who could not believe that he won; almost immediately, their focus turned to winning the 2018 midterm elections and ousting Trump’s Republican Congress. Momentum built among Democrats to bring about a “Blue Wave” and before long, Democrats were recruiting their new slate of candidates. The message was to put a check on Trump’s power by electing a Democratic Congress, pointing to numerous items on his agenda.
As early as late 2017, signs were emerging that the Democrats were in for gains. Republicans like Barbara Comstock of Virginia were in trouble since getting re-elected in 2016, and surburban California Republican Darrell Issa, who scraped by in 2016, announced his retirement just after the start of 2018. Over time, the number of Republican districts in play grew. The list went from maybe a dozen or so likely flips in 2017 to dozens as 2018 progressed. There was no corner of the country impervious to it, from northern Maine to southern Calfornia and the suburbs of Kansas. The Democratic lead on the “generic ballot” became substantial. (Link: RealClearPolitics)
On November 6, Democrats gained 41 seats and retook the House for the first time since losing the 2010 elections. North Carolina’s 9th District is outstanding due to allegations of improprieties. In January 2019, a Democratic House will be sworn in with Nancy Pelosi returning as Speaker, and political gridlock is the probable outcome. This Blue Wave did not, however, hit the US Senate, where Republicans increased their majority to 53 seats.
State legislature elections produced Democratic gains across the country, as did governorships. Democrats will have seven more governors than they did before, increasing their count to 23. These shifts will have an impact on redistricting to follow the 2020 Census.
The Top 10 Political Stories of 2018, #1: The Ongoing Brexit Drama
Our number one of the top 10 political stories of the year is Brexit, whether it happens or not.
British politics right now is a mess from top to bottom and side to side, with all of the European Union involved in the pile-on against the United Kingdom and their planned exit. Opposition MPs in large part do not want Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal and part of her own parliamentary party does not want it. This has quickly become a political issue too hot to handle, and one in which you could scarcely get a third of the House of Commons to agree on anything, let alone a majority of them.
The public remains divided and yet Theresa May is backed into a corner. She cannot get a hard Brexit through Parliament, but if she tries a softer Brexit, she will be roasted as a traitor to principle and a betrayer of the electorate. There is no guarantee that would pass, either. Further, she cannot get no Brexit at all accomplished as the 2016 referendum asked for it to happen. So, if you are keeping score, May has a mandate to achieve Brexit but nobody can agree on what form it should take; Parliament has to agree to it but they can’t agree on anything except that they don’t like what’s in front of them now. To make matters more dire, Europe is tossing hardballs at May’s government and will not throw the United Kingdom a bone.
In December, Theresa May survived a confidence vote of her own party. It will probably not go a long way to silence her detractors, but it was a victory nonetheless.
Pro-Brexit, anti-Brexit, or third-party observer, you have to admit, this is pretty wild. Aside from the fact that Brexit is supposed to happen in 2019, finding an end in sight to the issues that have arisen is difficult. Happy New Year, Theresa May. I’m not sure that you “won” the top 10 political stories of 2018 but here you are.