What are midterm elections and what do they mean for US politics?
Midterms, as the name may suggest, are elections that occur halfway between each presidential election. During these, all 435 members of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate (35/100) are up for election; members of the House are up for election every second year, whereas Senators serve six-year terms. Fifty-one seats are needed for a party to gain control of the Senate, and 218 are needed in order for them to gain control of the House. Either party that prevails in Congress will later have a much easier time pushing their legislative agendas. This year, voters are also choosing 36 state governors, and additional local legislative officials. America’s 2018 midterm elections are most citizens’ first opportunity to show their stance on the president’s rule, which can be predicted through his approval rate; Donald Trump’s is currently at 42%. Midterms directly affect the party that controls the White House. Historically, of the 21 midterms that have been held since 1934, the president’s party has only made gains in the House 3 times, and 5 times in the Senate.
Record turnout numbers
Midterm elections tend to have lower voter turnouts than general elections. However, the Pew Research Center has found that this years’ has attracted more voter enthusiasm than the last two decades; around 114 million people voted, making it a 48% turnout.
“While turnout rates rose this year in both Democratic and Republican House primaries, the increase was greater on the Democratic side – up 4.6 percentage points, to 10.8% of all registered voters, versus a 1.2-point increase (to 8.7%) on the Republican side.”
This sudden rise can be interpreted as the sense of urgency felt by the Democrats from the high stakes of this election and the impact it will have on their legislative agendas (e.g. immigration and tax reforms).
The results and what they mean
Donald Trump and his Republican Party still maintain control of the Senate by 7%. This means that Trump still has the ability to assert his Supreme Court, Cabinet, and other nominees. Although there is still a majority of Republican governors, the party has lost 6 seats while Democrats have retaken 7. Notably, most governors in office now will be still be in 2021 during the next round of congressional redistricting. Governors in numerous states will have the ability to veto over issues in the new House and state legislative maps. On the other hand, the Democrats have taken control of the House, with 223 seats versus 197. This means that Republicans will no longer be able to solely pass legislation from GOP votes, but will also need to argue with the Democrats. This new majority also gives Democrats more subpoena power, allowing them to investigate Trump and his administration in more depth.
37 states’ voters voted on 157 ballot measures, the results of which will affect various facets of their daily lives. The following are only a few of the new decisions that were made.
Voting rights were widely addressed. In Florida, 1.5. million convicted felons who have completed their sentences can now exercise their right to vote, re-validating parts of the Voting Rights Act. Maryland approved same-day voting registrations, Nevada “enacted automatic voter registration when drivers have contact with the department of motor vehicles.” In North Carolina and Arkansas, amendments that require voters to provide photo IDs to vote were passed, which can be restrictive to the poor and elderly.
Massachusetts reaffirmed the state’s transgender rights by rejecting Question 3, which aimed to repeal a law discriminating against transgender people.
Reproductive rights were under attack in Oregon, Alabama and West Virginia. All three states showed unwillingness to fund abortions.
Marijuana continues to become legalized throughout the country: Missouri and North Dakota now allow medical marijuana use. Michigan allows recreational use of the drug.
Many firsts: breaking down racial and gender barriers
On an inspirational note, there is now a record of 101 female House Representatives, 87 of them being Democrats.
Newly in the democratic party Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress at 29, Janet Mills is the first female governor of Maine, and Abby Finkenauer is the first congresswoman from Iowa.
Many candidates have made history by winning and consequently diversifying the American political landscape. To very quickly summarise: Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia are now the first Latina congresswomen from Texas. Jahana is the first black congresswoman from Connecticut. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland are the first Native American congresswomen. Jared Polis is now the first governor who is an openly gay man. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim congresswomen. Ayanna Pressley is the first black House member from Massachusetts.
Photo: Ilhan Oma via Flickr