What is at stake in the US mid-term elections?

This week, I attended the first of two sessions at London’s City Literary Institute to discuss the United States mid-term elections. This session looked at what is at stake and considered what might happen. The session after the elections will examine the results and debate the implications for the presidential election in 2020.

The elections are on Tuesday 6 November 2018, although in some states voting – by post and even in person – has already started.

The lecturer was Mark Malcolmson who is in fact the principal of the college. He is an expert on US politics, having lived in the country for many years, and an excellent prosenter.

He gave us the basic statistics of what is up for election:

  • All 435 seats in the House of Representatives
  • Around one-third, actually 35, seats in the Senate
  • 36 state governors and three US territory governors
  • 6,066 state legislative races in 46 states

He explained that there is something called “the mid-term penalty”. This is the almost invariable pattern that the party holding the presidency does badly in the mid-terms, so this will act against the Republicans this time. Another factor is that turn-out is always much lower in the mid-term elections than in Congressional elections when the presidency is up for election too.

Besides these two general factors, this year we have two extraordinary considerations. The first is the massive aversion to Donald Trump as president, especially among women. The second is the huge controversy over the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

On the one hand, Democrats (and independents) are fired up and there is talk of “a wave election” with the Dems doing really well. On the other hand, Trump remains very popular with his base and many Republicans feel angry at how Kavanaugh was treated.

The consensus on the course was that the Democrats are very likely to take the House of Representatives (they need to take 23 seats which should be achievable). But the Dems will probably not take the Senate (they would need to win two seats and hold all their current ones).

A Democratic majority in the House would enable the Dems to block legislation from Trump or Republicans, although Trump has achieved very little (except tax cuts) even with a Republican majority. Also the House under the Dems could initiate investigations on issues like Russia, keeping these subjects in the headlines and exposing new facts as we approach the next presidential election.

If you would like to know more about the American political system, you can read my guide here.


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