BY STEPHEN ATKINSON
The 2018 midterms are this Tuesday, November 6th. In addition to voting for local and statewide positions, North Carolinians will elect candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives. Across the country, however, many states will also vote for their U.S. Senators. (About one-third of the Senate is elected every two years—this year, no North Carolina seats are up for election.)
The main focus of midterm elections is control of Congress. Republicans currently have majorities in both houses, and Democrats see this election as an opportunity to win back influence. Nancy Pelosi has expressed confidence that Democrats will win a majority in the House of Representatives, where all 435 seats are up for election. And the polls so far indicate that this is likely. However, the chances are stacked against the Democrats in the Senate. Based on current polling, Democrats would likely have to win six “toss-up” races (in Florida, Nevada, Missouri, Arizona, Indiana, and Montana) and pull upsets in long-shot conservative states Texas and Tennessee—all for a 50-50 split in the Senate. Because of this, many are predicting that the Republicans’ current 51-49 advantage will grow.
According to polling averages from RealClearPolitics.com, Democrats currently have a seven point advantage over Republicans in a “generic ballot,” which means that across the country, voters are, on the whole, more likely to vote Democratic in congressional races. Most attribute this advantage to Donald Trump’s low approval ratings (which have hovered around the low 40s for most of his presidency) and the Democrats’ efforts to increase voter turnout. But why is it still so likely that Republicans will win the Senate? Luck is a big factor—many of the seats up for election this year are safely Republican. Also, even if a greater nationwide population votes for Democrats, Republicans are still likely to win lower-population states that, in the Senate, receive the same amount of representation as other larger states.
The Democratic Party’s popular advantage is more likely to have an effect in the House elections because of the legislature’s proportional representation. Thus, if Democrats lost the House, it would be a big blow to the party’s message of opposing President Trump. Similarly, if Republicans lost the Senate, it would be a stunning rebuke of Trump’s presidency.
Some have speculated this election may signal a “realignment” in the US party map, as Democrats look to win races in traditionally conservative Southern states. The charismatic Democrat Beto O’Rourke is challenging the well-known Republican Ted Cruz in Texas, and in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams is in a dead-heat gubernatorial battle with Secretary of State (and, controversially, overseer of elections) Brian Kemp. Success for Democrats in these Southern states relies heavily on high voter turnout. So far, early voting numbers have been high—but high across the spectrum, including likely Republican voters, who have had their own “get out the vote” push as a response to the Kavanaugh hearings. So it’s not clear who will come out Tuesday night with the upper-hand. Most likely, both parties will find reason to claim victory, but, as the 2016 elections proved, polls can be unreliable, and nothing is guaranteed.