• Abhay Dhillon

Predicting the US Mid-Terms

In the USA midterm elections refers the elections taking place in the middle of the term of the President. The elections this year are to be held on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. In the 100 member Senate, the Republican Party holds a 51-49 majority, while Democrats hold 47 seats, with the remaining two being held by Independents in caucus with the Democratic Party. The 435 member House, on the other hand, is also controlled by the Republicans 236-193, with 6 vacancies.

As a general trend, the party of an incumbent President tends to lose ground during midterm elections, although this does not always mean losing majorities entirely. In the past 21 midterms, the sitting President's party has lost an average 30 seats in the House, and an average 4 seats in the Senate; while only 2 elections saw the incumbent gain seats in both houses.

With a little more than three months left until Election Day, and Trump enjoying some of the worst poll numbers in history, the Democrats go in as the favorites to win the House. This has been evident in their fundraising efforts, there has been a secular trend in these elections of Democratic challengers far outraising their GOP incumbents in some of the nation’s most competitive districts, while becoming contenders in what were historically perceived to be deep red districts.

The picture in the Senate however, is different. The Democratic Party faces an uphill task as they go into the election with 25 Democratic seats up for re-election, compared with the Republican’s 8. Notably, the Democrats will be fighting for their existing seats in 10 states that supported Donald Trump in 2016, while the Republicans will be lucky enough with only one of their seats up for re-election in a Clinton won state.

President Trump, in spite of relatively strong economic indicators, is pretty unpopular. Issues like health care promise to dominate the campaign, and voters prefer Democrats to Republicans in key policy debates. As a pattern all Presidents begin with a period of “honeymoon” with high approval ratings which normally peter out after a brief period. With this President, however, things are not conventional. While being unpopular with the large mass of American voters, President Trump has a stronghold on Republican voters like no other. Among his ‘base’, which is very substantial and reliable to come out to vote, he enjoys the sort of ratings even Saddam Hussein would envy. Mr. Trump has defied every pattern and if one is to go by what his supporters say, he is all set to break another iron clad rule by coming back with a bang this winter. And don’t take this lightly.

The Democrats have a faint chance at a majority in the Senate, and face a heavily gerrymandered House map. Having lost a number of Gubernatorial races over the years, the Republican Party has been successful in engineering district maps so as to reduce majority Democrat voters into a minority of seats through gerrymandering – a practice perfected to keep out black voters post the civil war, ironically, by the Democrats themselves. With the Supreme Court sidestepping a chance to end gerrymandering, and Justice Kennedy being replaced by a staunch conservative, there is little hope that things will change for the Democrats anytime soon.

The frank reality that their (younger) supporters have historically been less reliable in turning out on the D-Day, compared to the GOP’s older, more devoted base, is also not lost on senior party members. A lot therefore rides at stake this time around, given that President Trump’s remarkable unpopularity allows them to harness anger and enthusiasm of young voters in a manner that is unlikely to be repeated with another Republican President.

In addition, from the mid-terms to local races for mayors and beyond, the Democrats have fielded the most diverse fray of candidates this cycle, with grassroots campaigners upending established party(men) members. Some of them, like the Democratic House Nominee for Queens, New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have become particularly popular for defeating established candidates with little funding. To sheer delight of most, and envy of some, women constitute 23% of non-incumbents contesting elections, one of the highest percentage ever – most of them Democrats. Read some more profiles of diverse candidates from our Parsing Pictures, below.

Wave Elections

The term wave election has been frequently used to describe an election cycle in which one party makes significant electoral gains. While this election is certainly advantage Democrats, it is not a wave election in terms of seats. An analysis by The Economist, Democrats had a 3 in 4 chance of a house majority, but only a 45% chance of getting a 15 seat majority - suggesting a very thin margin of victory. Gerrymandering, and a less effective turnout rate for the Democrats has ensured that things remain difficult for them. In addition, the Conservative backlash to an unabashedly diverse Democratic fray is also likely to fuel 2016 like enthusiasm among Trump voters, who see their political standing threatened – encouraging them to turnout in larger numbers.

Then there is the Russia probe, which a hyper-partisan media has painted as either a witch-hunt against the President or a foregone conclusion of his guilt. In truth however, it is neither, as investigations continue to take place as we speak. Amidst all this, the dragon of Russian interference has not yet been slayed. Despite, Facebook’s recent attempts to police politically driven advertisements, American intelligence agencies continually warn of alarm bells and breaches in cyber security.

As Polemics & Pedantics went to press, votes were still being cast in elections held on the 7th August, to fill vacancies in House, Senate and Gubernatorial positions in Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, Washington and Missouri, which will provide some signs of the way the wind is blowing. With a 100 days left in the campaign, Democrats have reason to be optimistic but President Trump could still have the last laugh.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

About the Author

Abhay Singh Dhillon is one of the youngest politicians in India and the District General Secretary of the Youth Akali Dal. A highly decorated student of Welham School for Boys, Dehradun, Abhay is a multi faceted personality. He possesses extraordinary oratory capabilities and has also addressed a large number of rallies in Punjab. Abhay was recently recognised by the IAYP (International Award for Young People), a thriving youth program which discerns the various hurdles, snags faced by youngsters and professionals.

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