The 2018 Midterm Elections – What’s at Stake?

The 2018 Midterm Elections – What's at Stake?

There is a lot at stake for Americans on November 6th.

With Republicans holding a complete lock on power in Washington DC and holding far more power in state governments across the country, Democrats are at a nadir and attempting to battle back into a position to provide some sort of check and balance that our system depends on.

The US House of Representatives is up for grabs, as it is every two years. Traditionally, we expect the party of the President to suffer losses during midterm elections, as midterm elections are about enthusiasm. The party out of power tends to be the more motivated party – driven in large part by anger they feel towards what the incumbent President has done over the past two years. Data suggests that people are indeed angry with the President. The President’s approval rating hovers around 43%, with around 52% of Americans disapproving. Democrats need a net gain of 22 seats in order to take control of the House. Many of those gains are expected to come from the West Coast. When it comes to control of the House, you will want to watch states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, California, and Washington state itself to see how that battle goes.

The Senate is up for grabs as well. Democrats need a net gain of only two seats to take power, but here the Republicans are likely to buck the historical trend and may even gain seats in this body. Only one-third of the Senate is up for election at any given time. The third that happens to be up now provide a horrible set of opportunities for Democrats. Republicans only have 9 seats they currently hold up for election, compared to 26 seats held by Democrats – many in states won decisively by President Trump just two years ago. When it comes to the battle of the Senate, Democrats need to hold on to seats in states where President Trump still commands considerable support (such as in South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, and Indiana) and also find places where they have a shot to win (such as in places like Tennessee, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and, surprisingly, Texas).

However, the most important battle this November is arguably being waged at the state level. 36 states are holding gubernatorial elections this year, and every state has state legislative elections. Republicans have complete control of 25 states, meaning they are the majority in all state legislative bodies and control the state governorship. Democrats only have control over 8 states. These state elections, especially for the 35 governorships, are critical because the people elected to these offices, in many cases, will be the people who control the drawing of legislative boundaries following the 2020 census. Every 10 years, states redraw districts, and the party that controls state power at that time can use that power to cement for themselves a tremendous advantage through a process called gerrymandering. Republicans used this to great effect following the Republican wave election in 2010, giving them an edge in House and state legislative elections over the past decade. If a Democratic wave washes over the country in 2018, Democrats would stand poised to even the playing field over the next decade. So, while many will naturally be following the federal election returns, pay close attention to the state level as well. Federal elections will tell you what politics will be like over the next two years, but the state results will give you a hint about what politics will be like over the next decade.

Patrick Schoettmer, Instructor of American Politics