Junk Explained: What Are The US Midterm Elections And Why Do They Matter?

Today's election is being called the most important in generations.

Donald Trump US midterm elections

You may have heard that the “most important election in generations” is happening in the US this week, and you may have thought to yourself, “but I thought Donald Trump was still in office for another two years?”, you’re absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean Wednesday’s vote aren’t still extremely important. So here’s the Who, What, When and Where of the US midterm elections.

What Are The US Midterm Elections?

The midterm elections, as the name suggests, occur every four years in the middle of a presidential term — meaning Donald Trump won’t be up for election this time around (that happens in November 2020). Instead, the full US House Of Representatives will be up for election, as will a third of the Senate.

That could have some pretty big implications for the Trump administration going forward. At the moment, the Republicans (Trump’s party) have a majority in both houses, meaning it’s relatively easy for Trump to push his agenda through. But that might all change on Wednesday.

On top of that, there are races for the Governorship of 36 states, plus a bunch of smaller races that could re-shape US politics for at least the next few years.

Why Do The Midterms Matter?

Democrats need to win 23 seats in the House, and just two seats in the Senate to win back control of one or both of those chambers. If they do that, they’ll be able to more effectively block Trump’s agenda and try to implement their own. That could have a huge effect on Trump’s future presidency.

For example, Democrats may try to impeach Trump. That would be a long and difficult process, but it could end with Trump being thrown out of office. On top of that, Democrats could start a bunch of investigations into Trump’s dodgy dealings, like allegations his 2016 Presidential campaign colluded with Russia, or the many legal and ethical questions that are constantly being asked about the administration.

On the flip side, if Trump unexpectedly wins big, it will embolden him and his supporters to be even more terrible than they already are.

It also means Trump will have a hard time implementing his agenda. Even with control of both houses, it’s been a pretty rocky two years for Trump. All of his big achievements — like tax reform and the appointment of two US Supreme Court judges — have been extremely hard fought. And some of his signature campaign promises — like building a giant wall between Mexico and the US — remain unfulfilled.

And speaking of collusion with Russia, you may have heard of the Mueller Investigation, which is looking into the allegations. After a flurry of arrests and charges earlier this year, former FBI boss Robert Mueller has been very quiet in the lead-up to the mid-terms. That’s because he doesn’t want his actions to influence the campaign. Once the midterm results are in, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll make some big moves. No one knows what that will look like, but it’s unlikely to be good for Trump. If the Democrats control one or both houses of Congress, it’ll be even worse for him.

What’s Going To Happen?

Remember in 2016, when everyone felt pretty certain that Hillary Clinton would win the Presidency, and then she… didn’t? Yeah, well, this time around, everyone’s being super careful about making predictions.

But there are some signs. Most pollsters agree that the Democrats have roughly an 80 percent chance of re-taking the House. And sure, that sounds good, but it does NOT mean they’re a certainty. What it really means is that according to the best polling available, the Republicans have a 1 in 5 chance of retaining control of the House. Most pollsters also agree that the Democrats are unlikely to re-take the Senate, where the races just don’t favour them this time around.

Traditionally, the midterms are bad for the President’s party, because voters see it as a chance to punish the administration. That’s what happened to Barack Obama in 2010, and Bill Clinton in 1994. (George W. Bush was a bit different in 2002, because he was still on a post-9/11 polling high).

So while history isn’t on Trump’s side, there are other factors in play. The US economy is booming and unemployment is at historic lows. The economic recovery started under Obama and has continued under Trump. We’ll find out tomorrow who voters really credit for the boom.

What Else Do We Know?

Ok the US electoral system is bonkers in a bunch of ways. They vote on a Tuesday (bad idea), they let parties set electoral boundaries (really bad idea) and voting is voluntary (bad idea, but pretty common).

What this means is that both parties will be focussing on voter turnout — making sure their preferred voters actually get to a polling place and cast a vote — and midterm voter turnout is traditionally a lot lower than in a Presidential election. This means both parties need to appeal to their ‘base’ — those rusted-on diehards who really love their party.

For the Democrats, that means an appeal to the reliable demographics such as young people, college-educated older people, and minorities. For the Republicans, it means appealing to older voters, less educated working-to-middle class voters, and staggering racists. In the lead-up to the vote, Trump has really ramped up the racism in the hope of turning out the same voters who unexpectedly elected him in 2016.

One other thing we know: A record number of people have already voted, and a lot of them are young people. That’s a good sign for the Democrats.

When Are The US Midterm Elections?

The US Midterm Elections will be held on Tuesday, November 6 in the US, which means we’ll start seeing the results trickle in on by mid-morning on Wednesday.

Rob Stott is Junkee’s Managing Editor. Yell at him about US politics @Rob_Stott.