Every four years, celebrities take to Twitter and urge voters to get out and vote in Presidential elections. Presidential elections draw out the armchair activists and frequent Facebook users to give their two cents about the next leader of the free world. Then, every two years, the general election’s ugly step-sibling rolls around: midterm elections. In 2018, 34 seats in the United States Senate are up for grabs, including 12 highly competitive seats that could potentially change partisan control. All the House of Representatives seats are up for re-election in 2018.
The Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2016. Midterm elections typically favor the political party not controlling the executive branch, because exasperated members of the public seek to turn the tide. Former President Barack Obama’s approval ratings in November of 2010 pulled in at 44.7 percent according to Gallup, and had been consistently declining for most of the year. Frustration galvanizes voters, and Congress has been increasingly occupied by Republicans since 2010. They gained nine Senate seats in 2014; an unusually large pick-up. Approval ratings in November of 2014 came in at 42 percent for Obama during his second midterm elections, a particularly weak spot politically.
As of April 16, Donald Trump’s approval rating is at 40 percent, according to Gallup. Based on trends seen during the Obama presidency, it is possible that voters will be so disheartened with the current administration that they will vote for the opposition. Fundraising for Democrats and independent candidates such as Bernie Sanders have already begun. Recently, the Political Action Committee (PAC) EMILY’s List, an early money fundraiser for female candidates, boasted in an email that more than 9,000 women have indicated interest in running for office since November of 2016. Whether this will translate into real electoral power is another story, but following the Women’s March on Washington, 40 percent of Democratic women in a Washington Post poll said they would be more politically active in 2017.
Despite having control of both houses of Congress, Trump has struggled to confirm several of his cabinet nominees, including Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who have decided not to toe the party line at the risk of upsetting constituents. Since it is early into Trump’s presidency, it is impossible to predict whether or not more members of Congress will distance themselves from the presidents in order to secure their re-election.
If Trump continually underperforms and is increasingly unpopular come midterm elections, Republicans may have to answer for their commander-in-chief. However, Republicans do have the incumbency advantage, which is always helpful in elections but is especially powerful during midterms, when less of the population decides to vote. Voters during midterms, usually either have to really like their representative or really hate them.
FiveThirtyEight.com, a political statistical analysis site, gave an early evaluation of midterms which said, “If Trump’s approval rating stayed at 40 percent in 2018, Republicans would be expected to lose the national House popular vote by 10 percentage points (the GOP won it by 1 point in 2016). That’s a shift of 11 percentage points from 2016. That size loss would probably be big enough that Republicans would lose control of the House, gerrymandering and urban packing notwithstanding.”
Democrats need to gain three seats in the Senate in order to gain control and the Republicans need to gain eight in order to have a filibuster-proof majority. With those eight additional seats, there’s basically nothing they can’t pass, even with conflicting interests within the party. The Democrats have to gain fewer seats in order to have a majority, however, there are 23 contested seats on the Democrat side, as opposed to nine for the Republicans. Ten of the seats Democrats are defending in 2018 are also districts Trump won in 2016. Prospects for Democrats often look grim, but there is historical precedent that indicates victory is indeed possible. According to the Cook Political Report, nine out of the past ten elections following a presidential race resulted in a flip in party majority in the House of Representatives.
If the energy is sustained, congressional shifts are well within the realm of possibility. It’s a big “if,” though. 2018 elections are still over a year away, and anything could happen to the political climate in that time.