Big Stakes in 2018 Elections

The 2018 midterm elections are setting up to be extremely important at both the state and the national level. It it is fair to say that the elections this November will significantly shape American (and global) politics for the next decade or longer.

Considerable attention will be paid over the course of the coming year to whether or not the Democrats will be able to wrest control of Congress from the Republican Party. As of March 5th, there are 45 more Republican than Democratic members of the House of Representatives. at means Democrats will have to win a net of 23 seats to take over the House. In attempting to do this, Democrats will have to overcome the advantages of both district construction (the median House district has a 4% Republican advantage) and incumbency. In the upcoming election, Democrats will need to have a national advantage in generic polls of at least 7% to have an even chance to win control. In the Senate, they are facing even longer odds. The way this year’s election cycle works out, several Democrats will be running in states won by Donald Trump and the few Republicans running for reelection are mostly running in relatively safe Republican seats. While the December victory of Doug Jones in Alabama (as well as the 2016 victory of Donald Trump in the Presidential race) reminds us never to take anything for granted, the path to victory is narrow for Democrats. These legislative races matter because they ultimately will determine whether the Congress will try to hold the President accountable or whether they will serve as a rubber stamp for the President’s agenda.

At the state level, there will be 36 governorships and 87 out of 99 of the state legislative chambers up for grabs. It cannot be understated how important these state-level races are. Indeed, the victors of these state races will largely get to determine what the districts look like following the 2020 census. Republicans were able to engineer a tremendous partisan advantage through gerrymandering following their massive wins in 2010. If Democrats win in 2018, they will be in a similar position to bake in a structural advantage for the next decade. Most of the day-to-day matters (like education funding) are determined at the state level, so even without the electoral implications these elections would represent a significant opportunity to affect the future course of the nation.

In all of this, remember that voters are what matter most. e research is clear that elected officials only listen to voters, and for the most part young people are not voters. In the last midterm elections (2014), only 23.1% of 18-29 year olds showed up to the polls. If you do not show up, you have no ability to impact the status quo. If you are happy with the way things are going in the country, stay home in November. If you want change, though, you must show up and vote.

—Patrick Schoettmer, Political Science Instructor