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.