Americans go to the polls in just two months, on November 2, in mid-term congressional elections that are shaping as a major setback for the Democrats. The latest odds give Republicans about a 75% chance of winning back control of the House of Representatives and a 25% at the impossible-seeming task of winning the Senate.

It’s normal for the President’s party to go backwards in its first mid-term election; that didn’t stop Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton from going on to comfortably win re-election two years later. But their poor standing in the polls has Democrats seriously worried, and the organised popular opposition to Barack Obama and his policies — embodied especially in the “tea party” movement — seems so far to be boosting Republican fortunes, even though the movement is not necessarily a reliable ally for the GOP leadership.

It’s unlikely that many Republican strategists will have been paying attention to Australia’s election, but if they did they might find some striking parallels. In each country, a centre-left government, recently elected with considerable public enthusiasm, has been faced with a hate campaign that seems out of all proportion to its real or alleged misdeeds. Under pressure from outside forces, its political opposition has tacked rightwards, with unexpected success. Tony Abbott’s strong performance in last month’s election provides further evidence that his US counterparts are on a winning electoral strategy.

The difference in circumstances in the two countries adds salience to the lesson: if the Coalition could make such impressive headway while Australia’s economy is performing well, how much easier should it be for the Republicans, when America is still in the doldrums?

Many similar themes have been sounded in each country: accusations of “socialism”, opposition to government debt (coupled, incongruously, with support for big spending), patriotism and support for the military. But equally impressive is the extreme heterogeneity of the anti-government forces in each case, ranging from religious conservatives to big business lobbyists to so-called libertarians to backwoods anti-science types.

One key element, however, is missing from the analogy. In America, the various strands of the anti-Obama movement have a powerful glue to hold them together: racism. Since the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s, the American right has been galvanised primarily by resistance to the idea of civil and political equality for Blacks, and the election of a black president has heightened the effect dramatically. The tea party movement, complex though it is, is unimaginable without that impetus.

Racism explains why many powerful electoral strategies in America have no equivalent here. The “voter fraud” allegations, for example, that led to the demise of ACORN had traction in America because they were specifically about getting blacks to vote. Similar conspiracy theories in Australia, lacking that subtext, remain the preserve of fringe groups such as the H.S. Chapman society.

Hence last Sunday’s rally in Washington, where Fox News broadcaster Glenn Beck proclaimed himself in effect the heir of Martin Luther King, riding a wave of white, middle-class resentment to appropriate the mantle of the civil rights movement in opposition to Obama and everything he stands for.

Australia has nothing like this. Abbott’s success tells us that some of the raw material is there, but if Coalition strategists think that they have a similar sort of groundswell behind them, they are likely to be disappointed.