On Nov. 6, the United States will vote in the first major election since Donald Trump was elected president. Trump is not on the ballot, and yet the stakes are incredibly high. The president is deeply unpopular, and his party, the Republicans, are at risk of losing their total control of Congress. The Democrats, meanwhile, are divided over the best way to leverage opposition to the president in order to regain a modicum of power. Here’s everything you need to know.
Who’s up for election?
The overwhelming majority of races involve the United States’ two major parties: The conservative Republican party, which is President Trump’s party, and the Democratic party, which comprises a fractured group of moderates and progressives.
Many governors’ seats, state and local offices are on the ballot on Nov. 6. But most of the focus is on the races that will determine which of the two parties will control the two chambers of the U.S. Congress. In the House of Representatives, all 435 seats are up for election, and in the Senate, 35 out of 100 seats are up for election. Of those races, only a small proportion are truly competitive. There are enough competitive races, however, that control of one or both chambers of Congress could change hands.
Who is going to win?
The Republican Party currently controls every elected branch of the national government. President Trump sits in the White House until at least 2020, and Republicans hold a majority in the House and the Senate. Republicans also hold two-thirds of state governors seats, which gives them broad influence over local politics.
But President Trump is one of the most divisive, unpopular presidents in modern times. His low approval rating, of 42 percent, gives Democrats hope that those who supported him in 2016 will skip this election or cross party lines and that Democratic voters will participate in unusually high numbers. They have reasons to be optimistic: Democratic voters have already increased their participation in the primaries, and more voters say they would support a Democrat over a Republican for Congress. And according to prediction models, Democrats currently have a 6-in-7 chance of capturing the House of Representatives and even or better-than-even odds of winning 15 contested governors’ seats.
Republicans, however, have a 4-in-5 chance of remaining in control of the Senate. And House districts are drawn in such a way that Republicans have a built-in advantage over Democrats. Although the odds that Republicans retain the House are small, it’s still entirely possible.
What’s at stake?
Because this is the first major election since President Trump took office, it will function like a referendum on the first half of his presidency. Trump’s actions on immigration, health care and taxation, as well as his insulting rhetoric toward women, Muslims, immigrants and people of color, have generated an enormous outcry. The election will test whether all of that outrage amounts to a loss of electoral support. It is also a test to see if the Democrats can return from the brink.
Winning the House would allow Democrats to somewhat check the Trump administration’s power. It would give them the ability to launch multiple, potentially damaging investigations into the administration and the president’s family. They could subpoena evidence related to suspected ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, which allegedly tried to tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. Or they could investigate the shadowy business practices of the president’s vast branding and real estate empire, which is now overseen by his children.
Control of the House would also give Democrats the ability to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. The Justice Department is already conducting a special investigation into the possibility that Russia and the Trump campaign secretly colluded to sway the presidential election. If that investigation turns up compelling evidence and Democrats have control of the House, many people expect Democrats to try to remove Trump from office.
Republicans are likely to remain in control of the Senate. That would allow them to continue to approve Trump’s very conservative judicial appointments and to stymie any impeachment attempts. Republicans may also remain in control of both chambers of Congress, meaning Trump will continue to dominate the government with little opposition. Right now, the Democrats have a large enough minority to block much of Trump’s legislative agenda, but there’s not much they can do about Trump’s vast executive powers.
What else is going on?
Opposition to President Trump has inspired an incredibly diverse group of candidates to run for office — mostly as Democrats. There appear to be more candidates than in recent elections who are Muslim, black, openly LGBTQ, or of Asian, Latino, or Native American heritage. And a record number of women of all backgrounds are seeking office, leading 2018 to be called “The Year of the Woman.”
But this election is not just a battle between Democrats and Republicans. It’s also a battle to reinvigorate the badly demoralized Democratic Party.
After Democrats failed to win the presidency, House, and Senate in 2016, the party suffered deep divisions over which voters form the base of the Democratic party and have the ability to lead Democrats to victory in the future. Should they try to woo moderate voters, who may be uncomfortable with President Trump’s rhetoric or parts of his agenda? Or, should they fire up progressive voters who are altogether furious with the president? Should they try to win back white voters who left the Democratic Party in 2016 to vote for Trump? Or, should they focus on boosting participation among people of color, who support Democrats in stronger numbers but vote with less frequency?
This election also revolves around questions of fair representation. Because the United States’ electoral system was built to preserve representation for voters in the minority, Republican voters are overrepresented in Congress and in the White House. (Although President Trump won the presidency in 2016, he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes.) With this election, many on the left are seeking a voice in the government, which they believe has been unfairly denied to them.