The Midterms, explained


In less than a week, Midterm elections across America will decide the fate of Donald Trump’s agenda for the next two years. But how do these elections work, and what results are expected? Here’s everything you need to know.


The Midterms are elections to the United States Congress, the legislative branch of federal government, held halfway into a sitting president’s term.


All of the seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs in Midterm elections, while roughly a third of seats in the Senate are contested.


The House of Representatives is the lower chamber and has 435 seats, whereas the Senate is the upper chamber and has 100 seats – two for each state.


Some state governor elections are also held, to select who will oversee the executive branch of local governments.


The Midterms are important for several reasons.


Firstly, they give an indication of how the president is performing and whether their party can expect to regain the White House in two years’ time.


Secondly, they effectively decide whether the president will be able to implement his or her agenda. Congress has authority over budgets, and therefore the direction of government spending and policy.


A Republican-controlled Congress roadblocked Barack Obama’s policies during much of his time in office, leading to a government shutdown in 2013 when a federal budget couldn’t be agreed.



If the Democrats win back control of either the Senate or the House of Representatives, they will hope to stymie Donald Trump – particularly his efforts to repeal Obamacare and withdraw support for refugees.


It is also likely that Democrats will turn up the heat on Trump over Russia and alleged election interference – using the powers of Congress to scrutinise members of the Trump campaign.


Given the polarised political climate in the United States, the Midterm campaigns have been fiercely contested.


A point of anger and debate has been the recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh had been accused of sexual assault by multiple women and faced congressional and FBI investigations into the matter. Throughout the process, Kavanaugh received the full support of Trump, who has himself been accused of sexual assault.


The Democrats see the 2018 Midterms as a pivotal moment ­­– giving them an opportunity to reign in the worst excesses of a volatile president.


America’s foremost pollster, Nate Silver, currently rates their chances of regaining the House of Representatives at 80% and their chances of regaining the Senate at just 20%.


To tip those odds in their favour, Democrats have been pulling out all the stops – even calling in help from former presidents. Barack Obama addressed an audience in Milwaukee last week, where he scolded Trump for inventing the truth. He said: “What we have not seen before, in living memory at least, is politicians just blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly, lying – making stuff up.”


Obama pointed out that Trump had promised a middle-class tax cut, even though Congress is not in session and could not pass the legislation.


Decision day is 6th November, when Americans across the country will head to the polls. The result will signal whether or not America is losing its appetite for Trumpism, and whether a Democratic resurgence is on the cards in 2020.


A Backbench report by Natasha Livingstone and Sam Bright


Listen to our full podcast on the Midterms by subscribing to Backchat on iTunes, Google Podcasts or Spotify


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