You probably have a lot of questions about the upcoming midterm elections. Who should you vote for? Where is your polling place? What should you wear? And should you bring extra clothes, so you can do a quick costume change in the voting booth to add some theatricality to the whole affair?
Well…we’re not going to answer any of those questions. (Except to tell you that right now, U.S. politics don’t need any additional theatricality.) But we are going to give you a rambling overview of the midterms that includes 1) what they are, 2) how how they’re likely to play out, and 3) how an “I voted” sticker looks on a baby seal. Are you ready? Let’s go!
I think I know what an election is, but what is a midterm election? Is it like a midterm exam? Because if it is, I do not like it.
It does, in fact, feel like we’re all being tested. But midterm elections are not exams; they’re the elections that alternate every two years with presidential elections. During midterm elections, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are in play, along with about a third of U.S. Senate seats, and many state and local-level offices.
Which party has the advantage?
The short answer is that the Democrats do, but the long answer is…
Oh no, that’s fine. Even that was a little longer than I was hoping for. The Democrats will take Congress and Trump will be impeached. It’s exciting to know all of this in advance!
Let us be a little more specific. Typically, the party that holds the White House loses Congressional seats in the midterm elections, so in 2018 you’d expect Republican majorities in the House and Senate to shrink, and maybe even disappear. Plus, Trump has energized Democrats, much the same way that you might feel energized by hearing a prowler in your basement.
OK. I have no further ques—
But on the other hand, the economy is pretty strong.
Yes, that’s why the Post Office keeps trying to hire me. I’m seriously considering it!
Also, by bad luck of the draw, Democrats are defending a lot more Senate seats in 2018 than Republicans. And because it deliberately gives disproportionate power to less-populous, rural states like North Dakota or Alabama, the structure of the Senate favors the Republicans. Because of that, Democrats will probably have to win the total national popular vote for the Senate by around 11 percentage points to actually win the Senate.
Well, that’s fair. Wait…is that fair? It’s in the Constitution, and yet it doesn’t seem totally fair.
And finally, Republicans did a better job of gerrymandering congressional districts after the 2010 census than Democrats, which means that in many cases, Democrats have to win a state’s popular vote by huge margins to get a slight majority of the Congressional seats. These factors will all help Republicans.
It feels like you’re listing all of these pro-GOP factors to keep me from getting complacent. But the joke is on you, because I’m still feeling very complacent.
Now, on the other other hand, power in the GOP is increasingly held by those reflecting the party’s intensely pro-Trump base. “If elected I promise to trigger the libs” is currently the best way to win a primary election against another Republican. But in a general election against a Democrat, it might not be the best message for suburban moms, who are legion.
Wait…why would a woman not like a political party in thrall to Donald Trump?
We can’t think of a single reason. And yet, polls suggest that support for Republicans among women—especially college-educated women—has dropped precipitously in the last two years.
But weren’t all the polls wrong last time?
Yes and no. They were largely correct at the national level—they predicted Hillary would win the popular vote by 2-3 percentage points, and she did. But they failed to predict the outcomes in some key swing states, partly because they didn’t account for the role education level would play in voting behavior, and partly because state-level polls just aren’t as reliable as national ones.
Hey, why do we use the word “polls” to mean both opinion surveys, and also the places that we go to vote? That’s a little confusing.
It’s because “poll” comes from a Middle English word meaning “head,” as in “head count.” For the same reason, “poll” can be also used as a verb to mean “to cut off an animal’s horns.”
Can you use that in a sentence?
“I’ll meet up with you guys later, I need to swing by my house after work to poll some goats.”
Thanks. So, what are the stakes? What will the Democrats do if they take one or both houses?
It’s hard to say, because there are a lot of competing priorities. Single-payer health care, reinstating the assault rifle ban, and ending the monstrous practice of separating children from their parents at the border, just to name a few. Plus, the Trump administration has inadvertently stumbled into a scandal or two, and a Democrat-controlled Congress might be slightly more inclined to look into those.
Are midterms really worth all the time and effort and resources? Couldn’t we just have elections every four years, and use all the energy spent on the midterms to mine for bitcoins?
That would require amending the Constitution. It would also probably confer partisan advantage. All things being equal, Republicans are better at turning out their voters for midterms.
“Turning out?” Do you mean recruiting them to become sex workers?
Not exactly. “Turning out,” in this context, means getting people to go out and vote. People who are wealthier, older, and more educated tend to be more likely to vote, especially in midterms. And historically, “wealthier, older, and more educated” has meant “Republican,” although there are signs this may be shifting.
This whole thing is starting to get a little wordy, so we’re going throw in a photo of a baby seal with an “I Voted” sticker to keep you going.
If I’m reading this website, then statistically speaking, I’m probably a woman between the age of 25 and 45. Does that mean I’m going to vote?
Yes. You are going to vote.
Should I vote?
We can’t answer that without knowing how else you might spend your day. If there’s a chance you’ll cure cancer if you stay at work all day on Nov. 6, then you should do that instead.
Do you have any ideas for how I can get my friends and loved ones to vote? In particular, ideas that involve enriching you personally?
I wouldn’t say “enriching,” but if you want to both pester someone to vote and also help us pay our mortgage, you can buy someone our new Don’t-Forget-To-Vote Candle. We also give a portion of the proceeds to people helping to protect voting rights (psst—it’s the ACLU but we haven’t gotten their permission to say that).
If the Democrats take both the House and Senate, when does Trump get impeached? Does it happen as soon as the polls close? Or do we have to wait until midnight?
Presidential impeachment has only happened twice: Once to Andrew Johnson for undermining Reconstruction, and once to Bill Clinton for…well, we all know what Bill Clinton did.* In any event, neither man was convicted by the Senate. It’s never happened, and so the smart money is on any Trump impeachment trial failing.
But similarly, the smart money was on a reality TV star not becoming the most powerful human being on the planet.
How many midterms have there been?
This will be the 58th midterm election since the United States was formed.**
That seems like a lot. Is that too many? Are there going to be many more?
It’s hard to say! One of the most romantic things about free and fair elections is that only afterwards do you realize which one was your last.
*Strictly speaking, Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury. You might want to bookmark the fact that many, many congressional Republicans are on record as believing that obstruction of justice and perjury are impeachable offenses.
**Some pedant is going to email us saying “Well actually states used to hold their elections on different days scattered throughout the year so technically the number is much higher blah blah blah” and we just want to say, in advance, shut up.