US mid-term elections minus seven-and-a-half weeks

Two years after Donald Trump’s shocking upset in November 2016, the Democrats are likely to win the House at November 6 mid-term elections – but the Senate is tougher. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Seats in the United States House of Representatives are assigned to states on the basis of population. All 435 House seats are up for election on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic voters and Republican gerrymandering, FiveThirtyEight’s House models say Democrats probably need to win the popular vote by six to seven points to take control. Polls show the Democrats currently lead in the race for Congress by 9.1 points.  In 2016, Republicans won the House by 241 seats to 194, on a vote margin of just 1.1% (49.1% to 48.0%).  FiveThirtyEight’s default “Classic” model gives Democrats an 83% chance of winning the House.

One-third of the 100 Senators are up for election every two years.  Each state has two Senators, elected for six-year terms. Thirty-five of the 100 Senate seats are up for election on November 6, including two Senate by-elections in Mississippi and Minnesota. Twenty-six of these seats are currently held by Democrats and just nine by Republicans. Democrats will be defending five states that voted for Trump by at least 18 points. Republicans currently hold the Senate by a 51-49 margin, including two independents who caucus with Democrats.

Given the tough Senate map, it will be difficult for Democrats to make the two net gains they require for Senate control (a 50-50 tie will be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence). The Democrats’ best chance to flip the Senate is to hold all their own seats and gain Arizona and Nevada. In the FiveThirtyEight classic Senate model, Democrats currently lead in all these races, but many margins are very close, and Democrats would be lucky to not lose at least one race they lead currently. Democrats are currently rated a 33% chance to win the Senate.

While both the House and Senate are required to pass legislation, the Senate alone confirms presidential cabinet-level and judicial appointments, and is thus the more powerful chamber. Many on the left hope that Trump will be impeached, but impeachment requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate; it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to win a two-thirds Senate majority at these midterms.

Since late August, Trump’s ratings have slipped from about a 42% approval rating in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, to a current rating of 39.9% approve, 53.7% disapprove, for a net approval of -13.8  This is Trump’s lowest approval rating since February. As I wrote in an August article for The Conversation, the strong US economy has held up Trump’s ratings. Trump’s ratings on managing the economy are much better than his overall ratings. The only previous president with this approval split on the economy and overall was Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

While the US economy remains strong, Trump’s ratings have slipped recently. I do not believe this drop has been caused by recent controversies. There have been many controversies involving Trump between May and August that did not impact his ratings. In my opinion, Trump’s drop is because more people are focusing on midterm election issues such as health care. Trump and the Republicans have attempted to gut former President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The Obamacare repeal attempt failed by just a 51-49 margin in the Senate in July 2017.

Trump’s recent decline could also be related to the Mueller investigation into Trump’s campaign links with Russia, which has had recent successes. Whatever the cause of Trump’s recent ratings decline, it is bad news for Republicans. Trump’s ratings and Republican performance in the race for Congress are strongly correlated, and Democrats have recently increased their lead for Congress, making it more likely that they flip both chambers of Congress.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

35 comments on “US mid-term elections minus seven-and-a-half weeks”

  1. Gawd, it must a pain to stand for election in the Reps. every two years. You’d have to campaigning shortly after you were elected, though I guess our parliaments only last some two and a half years.

  2. If the Dems get control of the Reps then there will be continuous rolling hearings into Trump, his family and his cronies on every issue possible from January 2019 to November 2020.

  3. the dems are very likely to control the reps but the senate will most probably stay where it is or be 50/50 with vp busy with his casting vote. A series of inquiries into the trump empire is a good thing he does not understand what a conflict of interest is.

  4. Five three eight is generally on the ball. The Dems will take the Reps but not the Senate.
    However it’s not certain that the Reps will fall. Voter turnout mid terms is the issue. Trumps people won’t go away, and they are well organised on the ground.

  5. possible repub held seats which can go to send, NevadA, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas in roughly that order

    Endanged Democratic seats North Dakota Florida, Missouri, Indiana and West Virginia
    so a Democratic senate win is possible but unlikely current 51/49 in favour of the repubs

  6. Does anyone know if there has ever been a time that the Democrats controlled both houses while a Democrat was president? When was the last time this happened?

    The reason I’m interested is the effects of gerrymandering and voter suppression on voter turnout and representation, which appear to favour the Republicans. I suspect that compulsory voting is a step too far for the USA, but perhaps shifting polling day to a Saturday might be achievable or establishing federal law to reduce gerrymandering.


  7. In answer to my own question, I found this chart courtesy of Wikepedia.

    The last time the Democrats controlled both houses and the USA had a Democrat president was the first two years of Obama presidency, 2009 and 2010, and before that the first two years of the Clinton presidency, 1993 and 1994.

  8. Tennessee has as democratic candidate a recent former governor of that state also Bob Corker was on bad terms with Trump and sort of pushed to retire.

    Texas has Cruze who hates trump as the sitting senator for Texas……he is also widely disliked by the senators he serves with… the dem9catic candidate is work8ng hard and has a pleasant easy going personality…but Texas has been a 8ne party s5ate since the early 1990s

    50/50 chance in Tennesee the odds are less in Texas for the democrats

  9. An aside on that chart, when making historical comparisons, it’s important to note that into the 80s the parties were very much internally divided on multiple lines, and cross-party coalitions were common (most notably on civil rights legislation). In a sense this reflects that in each region, the coalitions that formed the major parties were somewhat different and backed by different interests. So while Democrats controlled the House basically from WW2 until the 1994 Republican revolution, it wasn’t as significant as single-party control would be today.

    Assuming no change in the national political environment, Democrats would have to be favoured to pick up the 23 seats they need for a House majority. Even if the swings are wildly non-uniform, there are lots of vulnerable Republican seats of all types. Turnout differential should be far less of a worry than 2016 – everything from polls to fundraising shows significantly higher Dem enthusiasm (relative to what’s expected in a midterm and Republicans, of course).

    The Senate is basically a bunch of coin flips at this stage. It’s actually more difficult to really say a lot about. The next two classes up for election are far more favourable to Democrats, so in the long-run the status quo is pretty good for Democrats: But obviously Senate control is extremely important to rein in Trump.

  10. My worthless two cents: Will Trump be impeached if the Dems win reps? Yes. Will this result in his removal from office? No. He’ll still go to election in 2020 and lose if the Democrats get their shit together and choose an adequate candidate. This should be their main prirotity.

  11. On pure strategy level, if there is genuinely damning evidence against him, impeaching Trump in the House and then forcing the Republicans to aquit him in the Senate could be exactly what the Democrats want. It would not just severely damage Trump’s credibility, but take the rest of the Republican party down with him, whereas if they went along with impeachment, they would likely be able to put some distance between themselves and Trump in the public eye.

  12. “then forcing the Republicans to aquit him in the Senate”… My impression is that Trump has more than 1 enemy in the Senate who will cross the floor, enough to impeach him if the Senate retains the current equilibrium after the mid-term elections. It’s just a matter for Mueller to wait until the case against Trump is massive and simply undeniable, then strike.
    Trump is likely to be personally safe as, in the end, a Nixon-style situation will likely repeat itself. Trump could be in extremely serious trouble if, unlike Nixon, his brain snaps and he starts using the media to call for a popular uprising to defend him, etc. If he does that, nobody will be able to save him and he will end the rest of his life in either a federal jail or, more likely, a psychiatric hospital.

  13. Trump absolutely hates & loathes losing or looking like a loser, so he will hang in there.
    As he has shown many times in the past he will do everything to save himself ( and that does not necessarily include his immediate family). So, do not be surprised if he goes feral, including trying to rally an uprising if he loses the next presidential election in 2020. Even a major loss (both houses) in the coming midterm will see an angry erruption.
    They will have to pry him out office with a crowbar.

  14. State legislative elections are also so important but get almost no coverage. They decide the electoral boundaries, gerrymendering, voting rights, registration, early voting plus much more on social, health, education policies.

    If Democrats are to take America forward they need control of state governments which are dominated by Republicans.

  15. booleanbach:

    They will have to pry him out office with a crowbar.

    I’m inclined to agree.

    I don’t see Trump being gracious in defeat, or at all, for that matter. It would not surprise me at all if he encourages an ‘uprising’, as you put it, if he loses the 2020 election. Even if, god forbid, he wins, I can’t see him leaving office willingly when his second term is up.

  16. Agree with booleanbach and Mr. Newbie. He will never resign. Not in a million years. Even if resignation is the only thing that will save him from a prison sentence, he still won’t do it.

    Honestly, even if he’s impeached, I can easily see him refusing to leave office, bringing every power at his disposal to cling to power. Quite possibly if he loses in 2020 too.

  17. Impeaching Trump may have to wait until the Democrats are near the required 67 seats in the Senate, which will not be this election but might be the next, as a mass defection of Republicans seems unlikely in the current environment. That may mean that Trump is impeached in the final days of his term (The new congress starts on the 3rd of January, the new presidential term on the 20th), potentially with Trump being impeached again at the start of his second term as well (if he is re-elected, particularly if he looses the popular vote again).

  18. They can`t at this election, however if they do well at this election and the next election (when there are lots of Republican Senators up for re-election, who were most recently elected at the 2014 elections (Obama`s second mid-terms, not Democrat friendly)), after the next election it might be a possibility.

  19. “Impeaching Trump may have to wait until ”

    I think it was 538 but it might have been crooked media that pointed out that it is probably better for the dems to use a house win, if they secure it, to hold two years of hearings heading towards 2020 but letting the matter go to the 2020 election unresolved, for the voters to decide.

  20. @WeWantPaul

    I’d agree with that. Removing Trump would make Pence president. He’d be a welcome relief after Trump and would roll up to 2020 with the advantages of incumbency.

  21. I don’t know why people consider that the Republicans won’t vote to convict Trump in the Senate after the mid-terms. It would be in their interest to have Pence instead of Trump going into 2020. So Mueller’s report is finished in early 2019, the House holds Impeachment hearings during 2019, and the Senate convicts Trump toward the end of 2019, which would have Pence as President during the primary season of 2020. The Republicans haven’t impeached Trump so far, because it would upset the base, and any Republicans who had tried to impeach Trump would have lost in the Primaries. But this won’t be a factor in 2019, and Trump will have lost some of his gloss as he would be held responsible for big mid-term losses.

  22. John Goss

    I agree that President Pence is not the preferred prospect for the Democrats going in to 2020. Incumbency helps a lot, which was apparently why some Republicans were not really that keen on actually removing Clinton from office and giving a President Gore a “head start” for 2000.

    No President has ever been removed from office, either by impeachment and conviction in the Senate or by the provisions of the 25th Amendment. I do not expect this to change. If it really does go belly-up for Trump I think he would take the “Nixon option” and resign. And probably be pardoned by incoming President Pence as Nixon was by Ford – I can hear Pence (in my mind) saying ‘so that our nation can heal these bitter wounds of division’.

  23. Even if Trump is impeached, I think there is a significant chance that he would run for the Republican nomination again (and may have a good chance at winning) or running as an independent (massively hurting the Republicans). Pardoning an impeached Trump is probably not in the Republicans` interests.

  24. @John Goss

    Interesting idea that the Republicans would wait until after the mid-terms to impeach Trump so that Pence would have incumbency for 2020. Trump supporters would be mass a study in cognitive dissonance – not sure how that would play out.

  25. The point is that Trumpism isn’t some fringe element among GOP voters, it’s much closer to the bulk of Republican-identifying voters than mainstream conservatism.

    One reason why the GOP is doubling-down and backing him almost to a person and to the hilt, is because Trump has 80%+ approval among self-identified GOP voters. Until his hold on them falls, they’re not going to piss off their base.

  26. The House seems like a foregone conclusion… the Senate is the mess.

    Of the states that are contested
    – Arizona
    – Nevada
    – Montana
    – North Dakota
    – Missouri
    – Indiana
    – Tennessee
    – Florida
    (FTR, I think Cruz wins Texas by about 5% in the end)

    Giving away where I think the data has a decent lean… I have a 48-48 tie with four pure toss ups.

    – Florida. Governor Scott is rolling in money with a strong approval rating and the incumbent Bill Nelson had been running a pretty anemic campaign and had been behind for weeks. The presence of the more attractive candidate for Governor is boosting enthusiasm, so Nelson has recovered a touch. Still line-ball.

    – Missouri. Claire McCaskill is the ultimate political survivor. She won in 2006 on the back of the blue wave and ran a campaign to boost the Republican opponent she thought she had the best chance in 2012. She’s running against a more mainstream Republican in a state that has gone in two cycles from a bellwether to solid GOP territory (Obama lost it by 0.13%, then 9% and Clinton lost it by 18%)… however polling has her tied and given the expected surge in turnout, I expect McCaskill to hold it.

    – North Dakota. This is the seat the Democrats are most likely to lose. Trump won the state by nearly 36% and doesn’t have the quantity of suburban Republicans and Independents that have been a driving force of the Dem resurgence in special elections. But she’s keeping it close… I think they’ll lose this one.

    – Arizona. This is a tough one. Arizona was one of the states where Clinton improved on Obama’s margin, (9% in 2012 vs 3.5% in 2016). If the natural GOP voters come out, they could hold it, but the combination of increased Democratic turnout and GOP-leaning moderates/Indies abandoning the party… total gut feel has the Dems flipping this.

    My current prediction….
    Dems 51 (gaining AZ, TN and NV)
    GOP 49 (gaining ND)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *