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US midterm elections 2018: All you need to know

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 07, Nov 2018, 16:55 pm IST | UPDATED: 07, Nov 2018, 16:56 pm IST

US midterm elections 2018: All you need to know

Desk Fnf: In November 2016, Donald Trump edged out Hillary Clinton at the hustings, bringing to an end a vitriolic campaign. On January 20, 2017, Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States (US) on Capitol Hill. He subsequently waltzed his way to the White House, amid chants of “Make America Great Again”, the campaign slogan used to good effect to unhinge pressure groups and individuals who felt disconnected from the progressive politics espoused by liberal elites.

Two years to the day since Trump secured an unlikely victory, America votes again. In the intervening years, Trump has embarked on a radically different approach to foreign policy, sparking a trade war with China, and undoing the diplomatic outreach initiated by the previous regime, such as the nuclear deal with Iran.

Domestically, the rise of nationalism by the country's white population has led to a greater intolerance of racial minorities. While a return to the halcyon days of a unipolar world led by the US might be far away, Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” remains far from fulfilled.

However, the midterms may indicate whether the same voters who reposed their faith in Trump two years ago are in agreement with the course charted by the Presidency, and could also serve as a weathervane to gauge where the contest might swing should Trump stand for reelection in 2020.

Here is all you need to know about as America goes to the polls on November 6.

What are the midterms?

In the US, Presidential elections are held every four years, as are the midterms. However, the midterms are held halfway through the President’s tenure. While a large number of electoral offices will be contested, however, the spotlight will be on which party can wrest control of Congress —America’s Parliament.

The US follows a bicameral system like India, with the House of Representatives, being the lower house, and the Senate, the upper house, akin to the Rajya Sabha in the Indian polity.

Representatives of the House serve two-year terms, while Senators serve for six years, with elections to the upper house held in a staggered manner. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for reelection while 35 seats to the Senate will be contested at the midterms.

Moreover, voters will elect Governors in 36 states and three American territories this year. A host of constitutional posts at the state and local level administration are also up for grabs. Some states are also voting on individual issues such as in Florida, where constituents are debating the right of convicted felons to cast their vote.

What is at stake?

Donald Trump is not up for reelection till 2020, but the performance of the Republican Party in the midterms will be an indicator of the confidence in the current presidency. However, the incumbent’s party has mostly fared poorly in midterm elections. This has not altogether ruled out successful reelection campaigns in the past.

Many analysts believe that this is because of midterms are a referendum on the present administration, which means that it is mostly constituents who are opposed to the prevailing regime that are mobilised into casting their ballot. In the past two decades, voter turnout at midterms has always been less than that for the presidential election. Trump is looking to reverse this trend.

The Republicans have had the majority in the outgoing House, with 235 seats, as opposed to 193 held by the Democrats. In the present situation, the Democrats need 23 more seats to wrest a majority of 2016 in the 435-member House.

believes that the race will be especially close in 60 to 70 races, and that 30 of those could potentially determine whether the Democrats can reclaim the House. According to a poll conducted by the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight, Democrats have an 85 percent chance of tipping the scales in the lower house.

The race is more closely fought in the 100-seat Senate, where Republican hold a 51-49 majority. To control the Senate, Democrats need to increase their tally by two. In the event of a tie, Republican Vice-President Mike Pence serves as the tie-breaker, handing the advantage to the Republicans. Of the 35 seats that are up for grabs in the upper house, just nine of those are held by Republicans, handing them a chance to consolidate and compete for the seats held by Democrats.

Why are midterms important?

Victory in the midterm polls is imperative as the party which holds sway in Congress controls the passage of laws. If Democrats manage to wrest control of Congress, they will have more teeth in opposing Trump’s agenda, having repercussions on his proposed tax cuts, gun laws, and policies on immigration and same-sex marriages.

On the flip side, if the electorate further reposes in Trump’s vision for the country by voting in the Republicans, it could further embolden fringe groups and right-wing organisations that are viewed to have the tacit support of the president.

Barack Obama managed to get reelected despite an unfavourable referendum in the midterm elections of 2010. However, he was never able to replicate the first two years of his presidency where a Democratic Congress put its weight behind legislative proposals. After seizing control of Congress in 2010, the Republicans opposed Obama’s policy moves at every opportunity. It is likely that the Democrats will mirror the obstructionist tactics adopted by Republicans in the past.

Governors also hold great sway over policy decisions at the state level. They are vested with the power to draw electoral district maps following the census that will be undertaken in 2020. Sitting governors could manipulate district lines in their state to align with their support base. The ripple effect of such a move would be felt in every national election till the subsequent redrawing of the map at the time of the 2030 census.

A gubernatorial office is also seen as the first step for those with ambitions to take up positions in Washington. Of the 45 US presidents elected to date, 45 have also served as governors.

Is the Russia probe forgotten?

Questions have been asked of the legitimacy of the Trump presidency after it came to light that Russian hackers have influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election by manipulating voters on social media platforms. The role of the Trump campaign has not yet been ascertained as it is part of an investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Over 100 formal requests have already been made related to the culpability of the president and his coterie for allegedly colluding with Russian agents. With the Democrats gaining control of Congress, such requests could flow in thick and fast, lowering Damocles sword hovering over the President’s head. A Congress dominated by Democrats could also increase the possibility of impeachment.

However, to impeach a sitting president, the Democrats will need a two-thirds majority in the Senate. To garner a two-thirds majority in the upper house, the Democrats win have to win 26 of the 35 seats on offer. While it is unlikely, this highlights the importance of the midterms for the continuance of the Trump presidency.

What are the key issues?

While Trump’s foreign policy decisions have grabbed the attention of the foreign press, it is the local issues that will swing the midterms. The three mostly hotly debated issues have been immigration, healthcare, and jobs.

The Democrats allege that the Republicans are attempting to reverse existing entitlement programs and take away healthcare protections, rendering many Americans on the fringes of society and helpless to the vagaries of ill health and unemployment.

They have also hit out at Trump’s logic in engaging in a trade war, arguing that it was hurting downstream jobs in the US. As a riposte, Republics point to lower unemployment numbers as evidence of Trump’s success.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has also alienated ethnic minorities. In the run-up to the midterms, Trump claimed that the Democrats are behind the caravan of Honduran migrants heading towards the southern border of the US.

While the task of stopping the caravan from crossing over the US will lie with law enforcement agencies, the overt attempt to defy Trump’s immigration policy is a direct response to border detention and the mass deportation and separation of immigrant children from their parents.

The midterms will also have echoes of the MeToo movement. Trump had thrown his weight behind the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh as Supreme Court judge. Both Trump and Kavanaugh face allegations of sexual assault and impropriety. As a result, more women are running for elected office than ever before.

When will the results be out?

The first stream of results will come in after the polls close on the morning of November 7. The counting of ballot papers will begin once each polling station closes. A clearer picture will be ready by the evening of November 7.