Katherine Ashley Chen
October 30, 2022
What are midterms?
The mention of US elections might conjure up images of the presidential election, where candidates vying for the “top seat” in the country make elaborate speeches or debate and parlay against each other. But the upcoming elections—the midterms, are potentially even more significant than the presidential elections that often drum up the most headlines, at least to those unfamiliar with US politics. Why?
It is important to remember that the US government is split into three branches: the legislative, judicial, and executive, with checks and balances between each branch to make sure not a single hoards too much power. The legislative branch is responsible for passing laws, the executive branch for enforcing them, and the judicial branch for determining the constitutionality of those laws. During midterm elections, voters determine members of Congress that represent their district or state, as well as other important positions, such as governors, who propose and implement state-specific legislation.
The framers (makers) of the US Constitution intended for the legislative branch to be the most powerful, but as presidential power has expanded through the prevalence of modern technology and executive orders, the spotlight that used to shine on the midterms has faded to more of a dim illumination. Still, midterms are important because they determine what kind of legislation is passed during the next policy period, and whether it leans right or left.
What’s up with this year’s midterms?
Right now, both houses of the Congress are controlled by the Democratic party, who are generally seen as more liberal and “socially responsible”. This makes it easier for Biden—also a Democrat—to influence legislation and get important policies implemented through the law. However, upcoming midterms could dramatically alter the composition of Congress, with many speculating that Republicans will regain the majority in at least one either the House of Representatives or Congress.
What are the specific numbers?
The Republicans only need to win 5 extra seats in the House or 1 extra seat to win the Senate. A Republican-controlled Senate (either of the Houses), would make it far easier for the Republican party to block many components of Biden’s agenda, such as national abortion protections and same-sex marriage. A Republican majority would thereby increase gridlock in the policymaking process and render it far more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation, or really any legislation.
Republicans have also vowed to initiate a string of investigations into Biden’s administration and family if they take control of either chamber, which can be unnecessarily time consuming without genuine, non politically motivated evidence.
All of this can further decrease the little trust Americans have in the political process, which is already at a historic low.
Why the change?
The US is an extremely polarized country, the advantage of one party over another generally relies on the issues on the minds of voters. In the summer, when, when news emerged of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, a landmark decision protecting abortion rights, abortion became a key national issue. This boosted support for Democrats, who have made abortion support an issue central to many campaigns. Since then, the immediate impact of the decision has faded, and with that, support for Democrats has also waned. Now, Republicans try to turn the attention back to issues that tend to focus on and benefit from—immigration, inflation and violence.
Midterms often serve as an indicator of how well the President is doing in office. Of course, since it is generally far easier to critique than approve, the party in power over the presidency usually loses seats during the midterms. President Biden’s less than 50% approval rating doesn’t generate a lot of optimism for the Democrats in the upcoming elections, but there is nothing we can do other than wait and see what happens.