As the big day dawns (if that’s the right way to put it, taking time differences into account), here is a thread for discussion of the US mid-terms – and a piece I wrote for Crikey yesterday that proved surplus to their requirements. I will possibly supplement this post with live coverage tomorrow, depending on how I go. Also find at the bottom of the post a guide to when polls close, repasted from Adrian Beaumont’s previous post.
On the eve of America’s mid-term elections, all signs point to a dramatic upsurge in turnout compared with four years ago – something that would ordinarily be seen as a sign of robust democratic good health. However, the last few years of American politics have made a mockery of the word “ordinarily”, and this circumstance is no exception.
The high pitch of interest can instead be seen as a symptom of the dangerous polarisation that increasingly defines American society – one effect of which has been to raise the stakes as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of Congress. Unhappily for liberal America, the dice are loaded against the Democrats tomorrow, for reasons fair and foul.
Among the latter are the efforts of state Republicans to test the limits of what courts will allow in limiting the franchise and placing obstacles before pro-Democratic constituencies in the name of fighting “voter fraud”.
Other problems for the Democrats are more intractable – such as the allocation of two Senate seats per state, an incontrovertible constitutional reality that privileges conservative rural and small town America over the liberal metropolises. This is illustrated by two of the states with seats up for election tomorrow: Wyoming, the least populous in the union (less than 580,000), and a Republican lock; and California, the most populous (nearly 40 million), and a similarly sure bet for the Democrats.
The other difficulty for the Democrats in the Senate is that the seats up for election, accounting for around a third of the total, are mostly those whose six-year terms began in 2012. That was the year of Barack Obama’s re-election, and thus of strong performance by the Democrats, in contrast to the drafts of Senators elected in the 2014 mid-terms and in 2016. This leaves the Democrats and their independent allies defending 26 seats against just nine held by Republicans, from which they need a net gain of two to boost their representation from 49 to a bare working majority of 51.
In the House of Representatives, the Democrats are handicapped by dramatically unfavourable boundaries, owing to a combination of bad luck and bad design. The first of these refers to over-concentration of Democratic support in big cities, where its members enjoy wastefully large majorities. The second involves the distinctively American blight of gerrymandering, of which there has been an outbreak since Republicans seized state legislatures as part of their mid-term sweep in 2010.
Such are the challenges the Democrats face tomorrow, at elections in which they are sure to do well by normal standards – but in which normal standards are not the ones by which they will be judged.
Democratic Senate incumbents are favoured in the states where presidential elections are usually decided, including the mid-west rust belt states that famously tipped the balance to Trump: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. However, they must repeat seemingly unlikely victories from 2012 merely to break even, in such unpromising states as West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana.
If a path to a Democratic majority exists, it most likely runs through the tricky terrain of Tennessee and Texas – the later presenting the most intriguing contest of the election, with Republican heavyweight Ted Cruz only slightly favoured to hold out against Democratic upstart Beto O’Rourke.
The House, being freshly elected in its entirety every two years, is greatly more promising for them, despite a consensus that their national vote will need to be fully 7% higher than the Republicans if they are to score a majority. Forecasting models suggest they are more likely to make it than not, partly reflecting the decisiveness of suburbia and the city fringes – places where the Republicans are vulnerable to the allergic reaction to Trump among better educated voters, female ones in particular.
As ever, everything depends on the demographic balance of turnout, and here the Democrats are encouraged by signs that the younger generation is at last shaking off its apathy. However, they will also know from bitter experience how elusive pre-election portents can prove when the scores start to go on the board.
Poll closing times
All times listed here are Wednesday November 7 AEDT. Some states straddle two time zones. In this case, networks will not call a state, and exit polls will not be officially released, until all polls in the state are closed. I will concentrate on poll closing times for the key Senate races below. Source: The Green Papers.
10am: Indiana Senate, eastern zone. Most of Indiana is in this zone, while a small part closes at 11am.
11am: Florida Senate, eastern, and Virginia. The part of Florida that closes at 11am is relatively Democratic-friendly. The deeply conservative “panhandle” closes at noon, and will assist Republicans. Several House races in both Virginia and Florida are contested.
11:30am: West Virginia Senate, where Democrat Joe Manchin is expected to win in a state that vote for Trump by a crushing 42 points.
12noon: Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan (eastern) and Tennessee, Missouri and Texas (eastern) Senate. New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania have many contested House seats. Most of Michigan and Texas are in the eastern zone. Republicans are a long shot in New Jersey Senate, and Democrats are a long shot in Tennessee and Texas Senate. Missouri Senate is expected to be close.
1pm: New York, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin and Arizona Senate; many House races are contested in these states, and the Arizona Senate is close.
2pm: Nevada and North Dakota (eastern) Senate. Republicans are favoured to gain North Dakota, while Nevada is expected to be close. Polls in the trailing part of North Dakota close at 3pm.
3pm: California and Washington State, where many House seats are contested.