A Brief Guide to This Year’s Midterm Elections

As the 2018 midterm elections near, our country is in a–for lack of a better word–strange position.  We have a president entering the third year of his term with an approval rating well below 50% (at times low enough to rival those of Nixon and Carter).  We are in an era of divisiveness, hateful rhetoric, and corruption extending across the political spectrum.  In such times of unrest, the American people can make on impactful action: vote. This November’s elections are crucial for Republicans and Democrats and could mark a pivotal moment in U.S. history depending on who is elected.  In this article, I hope to provide a brief guide to the midterm elections, identifying some important races and suggesting outcomes based on polling.

The Senate

First, we should look at the federal congressional elections.  The current Senate comprises fifty-one Republicans, forty-seven Democrats, and two independents who vote with the Democrats.  This November, 33 seats are up for election. 23 of these seats are currently held by Democrats, 8 by Republicans, and 2 by the aforementioned independents.  So, practically, the Democratic party has 25 seats up for election compared to just 8 Republican seats. What’s worse for Democrats is that 10 of those seats are in states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but this does not mean they will vote for Republican senators.  Arizona is an excellent example of this, a state that voted for Trump by over 4%, yet is projected to elect a Democratic senator (for the first time since 1988) in Krysten Sinema.

Competitive Senate battleground states include New Jersey (incumbent Democrat favored by 4.7%), Texas (incumbent Republican favored by 4.5%), Arizona (Democrat favored by 4.4%), Montana (incumbent Democrat favored by 3%), Nevada (Democrat favored by 2.3%), Florida (incumbent Democrat favored by 2%), Indiana (incumbent Democrat favored by 0.5%), and Tennessee, where there is an average tie in the polls between Republican Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredessen.  These polling numbers were taken from the average of polls conducted per FiveThirtyEight. Among the uncompetitive elections, Democrats will likely win 20 elections and Republicans will likely win 6 according to FiveThirtyEight.  

Because of this and the polls in competitive elections, it appears that Democrats will retain almost all of their seats in the Senate and could even gain one or two.  However, it is unlikely that they will be able to gain a net of more than two seats, which would be needed to secure a majority.

The House

Democrats will likely be more successful in the House of Representatives.  In 2016, Democrats gained 6 seats. This year, with all 435 seats up for election again, they will need to gain 24 seats to obtain a majority.  The current makeup of the House is 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats with 7 vacancies.  There are many elections for the House, so it would be more appropriate to give an overview rather than discussing individual races.  So, while there are 435 seats due for an election, not all are challenged each year. It is often the case that factors such as gerrymandering result in congressional districts that are impossible for one party to win. The minority party would be wasting money putting up a candidate and campaigning there.  Because of this, only 101 seats are being contested this November, 79 Republican and 22 Democrat. Of the seats presently held by Democrats, only one (Pennsylvania’s 14th District) leans towards the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, 14 elections for current Republican seats lean Democratic. In addition, just two of the remaining 21 Democrat seats are considered “toss-ups” by RealClearPolitics based on polling (Minnesota’s 1st and 8th Districts).  In contrast, 38 (or 48%) of the current Republican seats are considered toss ups, and this excludes the seats that lean Democratic. Since Republicans hold the majority of the highly contested seats in this election, they are at a much greater risk of giving up their majority.

These statistics suggest that Democrats will gain a minimum of 13 seats this year, and that number assumes that Democrats will lose every one of the 40 toss-up elections.  And it doesn’t take a mathematician to tell that those odds seem unlikely. The bottom line is that Democrats need to win 9 of 40 toss-up elections to gain a majority in the House, an enormous victory for their party and a great loss for the Republican Party.  Republicans should be alarmed by these House midterm elections; they are losing seats they have held for a long time, meaning that the electorate is clearly not aligning with their platform and candidates as well as they had in the past. The fact that the party opposing the president historically fares well in midterm elections is also good news for Democrats.

Other Elections

As for state and local elections, there are several types of races to watch for.  36 states and 3 territories will be voting for a governor.  Polling predicts the closest gubernatorial elections will take place in South Dakota, Oregon, Ohio, Maine, Kansas, Iowa, Georgia, and Florida (FiveThirtyEight).  87 of the nation’s 99 state legislative bodies will be holding elections for 6,070 seats in November.  Historically, the party opposite of the president is usually successful in these races (gaining 350 total seats on average), so Democrats are also likely to win seats here.   Republicans control about ⅔ of all state legislatures, and it will be interesting to see how or if this changes after midterm elections.  For judicial elections, 297 total court seats are up, including 69 state supreme court seats across 32 states.  In North Carolina, Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson is defending against both Republican Chris Anglin and Democrat Anita Earls.  Lastly, municipal elections will be held in 49 of the 100 largest largest U.S. cities with 27 mayoral elections.  There will not be a Durham mayoral election this year.


I’ve stressed the importance of these midterm elections and suggested the potentially momentous changes they could bring to our country.  It would be foolish to announce a firm prediction for any race; this kind of misinformation can be disastrous. However, I will note that these midterm elections provide a great opportunity for the Democratic Party to gain offices throughout the government and increase their power, particularly in the House of Representatives.  This observation is based on polls, which cannot accurately represent the beliefs of the entire electorate; therefore, speculation will persist until November 6th. Regardless, one thing is undeniable: the actions of the electorate on election day will affect all Americans, which is a reason to closely follow these midterm elections and eventually vote.

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