Takeaways from the 2018 midterms
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
On paper, the 2018 midterms were the elections to select congressional candidates across the United States. There were 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats to fill, along with a few governor races.
In reality, they were a referendum on Donald Trump's presidency. The president admitted as much on the campaign trail. “I want you to vote,” Trump told a rally last month. “Pretend I’m on the ballot.” At another rally, he told the crowd that it “is a referendum about me.”
According to the Associated Press' VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate, 40 per cent of voters used the midterms to express opposition to the president - while 25 per cent said they voted to express support for Trump.
Much like America since Trump's victory in 2016, the United States were divided. It was a night of wins and losses for both Democrats and Republicans. Trump called it a "tremendous success", but at the same time, he suffered defeats (not that he would ever admit it).
There was no blue wave for the Democrats, either - but they secured a vitally important victory by re-claiming the House of Representatives. They control the lower chamber for the first time in eight years - a crucial part of the checks and balances on presidential power.
The Republicans, meanwhile, have expanded their majority in the Senate, seeing off tightly-fought contests in Florida and Texas. The GOP built on their one-seat majority in the upper chamber by winning Democratic seats in Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri. It was a big ask for the Democrats with 10 incumbents running in states Trump carried in 2016, including five by double-digit margins, according to Politico.
As the Financial Times notes, Democratic candidates successfully harnessed anger against Trump among women and suburban voters, while "rural and small-town America were energised by the president’s opposition to illegal immigration and incendiary nationalist rhetoric".
Turnout for the midterms has been huge. Early voter turnout was significantly higher than the last midterm elections in 2014. Over 31.5 million ballots were cast before November 6, Global News reports. According to the Elections Project from University of Florida associate professor Michael McDonald, early voter turnout doubled in eight states, including Texas and Tennessee. In fact, in Texas, more people voted early than the total number of people who voted in the state in the 2014 midterms.
Overall, it is estimated that 114 million Americans voted in the midterms - that's 31 million more voters than those who cast their ballots in the last midterm elections in 2014. “Certainly in states like Florida and Virginia we’re seeing turnout rates that are at least at 20-year highs,” says Corwin Smidt, an associate professor of political science at Michigan State University, told TIME. “This is a high water mark for midterm turnout.”
In Florida, for instance, more than 8 million voters cast ballots in the Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson (compared to 6 million votes in 2014 and 5.5 million in 2010).
Women won in record numbers. Before the 2018 midterms, there were 107 women serving in both chambers - the House and the Senate. As a result of the elections, it is expected that more than 100 women will serve in the House alone for the first time. "Most of the growth in women members comes from Democrats. Eighteen of the 29 seats Democrats picked up on Tuesday night were won by women, and more are likely to declared victors in the coming days," Politico reports.
At the time of writing, the Democrats control 220 seats in the House, compared to the Republicans' 193 (with 22 races to be called). In the Senate, the GOP hold the Senate with 51 seats, six more than the Democrats, and the independents who vote with them (with four races to be called).