Mid-term Elections

midterm 2018

Mid-term elections are coming up in the USA in November.

Note: stay tuned for ACCESS UPDATES in October and November on the American mid-term elections!


What are mid-term elections?

An American President is elected to a four-year term of office. But Congress holds elections every two years. Therefore, a Congressional election held in the middle of a presidential term is called a “mid-term” election. Although mid-term elections do not attract as much attention as Presidential elections, they can be just as important for the political fortunes of the country. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election and one third of the 100 Senate seats (Senators sit for six-year terms, so one third are up for election every two years). If either of these chambers of Congress should change hands from Republicans to Democrats or visa-versa, it could lead to sharpened conflicts or greater cooperation between Congress and the White House. Mid-term elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first of November.

It is normal for the party holding power in the White House to lose seats in one or both chambers in mid-term elections. This is because that party has held a position of power for at least two years at that point and has had to make decisions that will have disappointed at least some part of the electorate that once voted for its candidates. It is easier to make promises than to keep them. How much the party in power loses (or occasionally gains), is then used to estimate which of the two parties will have the best chance of winning the next presidential election two years later. So the impact of mid-term elections is both immediate – who will work with whom? – and long-term – who will win the White House next time?

In addition to this, state and local elections are held throughout the United States at the same time as the mid-term elections. This includes some state Governors, parts of all state legislatures, local mayors, city councils and many other officials in the estimated 89,000 units of government that make up the American political system.


Working with mid-term elections

Here are some of the questions a class might work with in the run-up to American mid-term elections. Before you do so, make sure you have read and worked with the text "Background: The Rules of the Game" (pp. 184-191), and preferably also the text "Focus: On the Playing Field" (pp. 193-213).

  • Which party controls the House of Representative? The Senate?
  • By how much?
  • How many Senators are up for election? In which states?
  • Is there a chance that either chamber will change hands? How many votes would that take?
  • Which election contests in which states seem to be the closest?
  • What are the major issues being debated between the parties on the national level?
  • What effect does the sitting President have on these elections?
  • How many states are electing Governors in this election?

After the elections, the class might answer some of the following:

  • Which party now controls the House of Representatives? The Senate?
  • By how much?
  • Can either party be called the winner of the mid-term election?
  • How do the parties themselves characterize their results?
  • How might the election affect the relationship between the President and Congress?
  • According to the parties and the press, what effect might this election have on the presidential election in two years?
  • How many state governors do each of the two main parties now have?
  • Has this number changed because of the election? If so, which party gained in which states?
  • What might this tell us about the power of the two major parties on the state level?

The Congress building on Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. The Congress building on Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.