Following the US midterm elections on Tuesday, Allison Welty, deep dives into what looks to be a very promising result for the democrats

The United States held midterm elections on Tuesday and unprecedented coverage was seen in Europe and around the world. These elections are held every four years and take place two years into a president’s four year term. And just as in any presidential election, the midterms provide the opportunity for Americans to vote on a number of referendum-style ballot measures in addition to electing official representatives at the state and local level. Americans voted on Tuesday to elect their state representatives to the Senate and the House of Representatives, together referred to as Congress. The Republicans and Donald Trump have held the majority of these seats since the presidential election in 2016, meaning they had full control over major legislative decisions like confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite overwhelming public opposition. Midterms have historically low voter turnouts and often receive little attention from the global press. So why did they receive so much attention and what do the major gains made by Democrats actually mean for Donald Trump’s power?

What did voters decide?

The Democrats won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and secured the power to prevent any future legislation by the Trump administration. However, the Republicans retained control of the Senate. Most polls and political strategist prior to Tuesday knew it would be incredibly difficult for Democrats to take control of the Senate, largely because the majority of the seats were not on the ballot.

It is important to note that Republicans retaining control of the Senate does not mean a defeat for Democrats, nor does it even mean the majority of the votes cast for the Senate went to Republican candidates. Nearly 57% of the votes for Senate were cast for Democratic candidates, yet the Republicans still sent 33 more Senators and won the majority. Gerrymandering and partisan redistricting has radically shaped how these representatives are elected, and unfortunately, Democrats cannot change this without gaining control of the senate. And despite these facts, the majority of the coverage following the election would like to characterise these results as ‘split’ and indicative of a bigger divide among voters. The truth is, Americans overwhelmingly vote democrat and have done so in the past two decades of presidential elections. Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump won the presidency without winning the popular vote, and the same is unfortunately true for the majority of our senators.
Despite media coverage characterising the results as a ‘split’ decision, this year’s midterms were a historic victory for Democrats. Because the midterms are held two years into a president’s term, they are largely understood to be a reflection of the country’s overall approval of the president. The same is true this cycle, and the democrat’s victory and massive voter turn-out is a rebuke of Trump and the Republican policies regarding healthcare, anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the controversial appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. In fact, this was the largest gain for Democrats since the 1970 midterms, where democrats increased their majority in the House and retained their majority in the Senate during Richard Nixon’s presidency and the Vietnam War.

It is also important to note that many elections are still undecided, including key races in Georgia and Florida. Democrat, Stacey Abrams, challenged Republican, Brian Kemp, in a race plagued by fraud, widespread voter suppression and election machine failures. Kemp, who refused to recuse himself as the secretary of state to Georgia, remained in charge of overseeing the fairness of the very election he hoped to win. His campaign utilised the state infrastructure and his powerful office to remove voters from registration lists, accuse the Abrams camp of election fraud despite his prior refusal to take steps that would protect voter machines against interference and employed overtly racist phone messages to scare Georgia voters away from Abrams, an African American woman. Despite Kemp declaring victory on Tuesday, there are still outstanding ballots, and the current numbers suggest the race could be forced into a runoff election. In this case, the election would essentially be held again and give voters another chance to decide between the two gubernatorial candidates. If she wins, she will become the first Black, female governor in the US. Florida Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum faced similar acts of voter suppression and overt racism in his race against Republican Ron DeSantis. And, despite DeSantis declaring victory, he leads by only 0.4% of the vote, or roughly 40,000 votes, and it is likely the final result will trigger an automatic recount.

27 candidates who received campaign donations and support from the National Rifle Association, the well-funded gun lobbying organization, lost their races.

Progressive voters have a lot to celebrate. In addition to electing the first openly gay governor in the country, Colorado voted in favor of an initiative that would curb gerrymandering practices and took steps to prevent the use of forced prison labour by officially abolishing slavery from its state constitution. Florida took major steps to curb voter suppression by voting to restore voting rights to convicted felons. Michigan elected its first Palestinian American, Rashida Tlaib, to the House of Representatives. Minnesota elected the first Muslim woman, Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee to congress. Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska voted to expand the increasingly vulnerable ‘Obamacare’ health policies in their states, despite the Republican leaders who opposed its expansion. And 27 candidates who received campaign donations and support from the National Rifle Association, the well-funded gun lobbying organization, lost their races. And of course, the debate for legalisation of marijuana continues to win, with Michigan voting to legalise recreational use and both Utah and Missouri allowing medicinal use for the first time.

However, there are still many parts of the country where conservative policies won favor. West Virginia and Alabama took even further steps toward ending legal abortion in the state in measures designed to reach the newly conservative Supreme Court. Alabama also approved a measure to display the Ten Commandments in the state capital.

What do these results mean?

Trump and the Republicans can no longer create policy without Democratic approval. With the Democrats in control of the House, they finally have the power to act as a check on Trump and the Republican policies, and Trump will need to negotiate with Democrats to accomplish anything. hile this also means they have the power to bring articles of impeachment against Trump, it is incredibly unlikely. Instead, they will likely use their power to hold Trump more accountable. Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon not to make public his tax returns, and the Democrats now have the power to force this release. And possibly more consequential, Democrats now have the numbers to force a closer investigation of Trump’s campaign by reopening the previous investigation chaired by Trump loyalists. The Democratic House also prevents Republicans from continuing to attack the affordable care act, or ‘Obamacare’ as Democrats can veto such legislation.

Jeff Sessions | Photo: Gage Skidmore; Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Perhaps the most consequential power gained by the Democrats is the power through committee to investigate the President. A special investigation has been underway by Robert Mueller to examine the Trump campaign’s cooperation with Russian officials who worked to influence the election, in which five of Trump’s campaign team have been charged and plead guilty. The firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday and appointment of Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who has openly criticized the investigation, to acting Attorney General seems to be a defensive move against Democratic control.

The midterms gained so much attention this year because we are facing some of the most turbulent political landscape in decades. The last few years have understood Trump as the beginning of a wave of far right authoritarians taking power across the globe. From Hungary, Italy, Turkey, to Brexit and the emerging strength of the right in Germany and France, it is difficult to envision a world where human rights will continue to be won and the freedom of press will not be under attack. However, the trends of these midterms tell a somewhat different and more hopeful story. The contested races in Georgia and Florida, while fraught with racism, fear-mongering, and voter suppression, brought millions of newly registered and first time voters to the polls. And further, Georgia, Florida, and Texas have for too long been seen as ‘unwinnable’ for a democrat. Beto O’Rourke’s inspiring campaign against failed presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, came closer to victory than any democrat has in decades. Progressive candidates like Abrams and O’Rourke may have lost, (or not yet won), but they are hugely symbolic of what Americans value, even with Trump as our leader. The gains made by these candidates who chose hopeful and passionate messages of inclusion have given an alternative narrative to the hateful messages of the past three years.

Cover photo:Mirah Curzer (Unsplash)

  • Allison Welty is originally from the United States and currently living in London. She has a dual bachelors in History and English, and completed a master's in English Literature in 2015. She is currently completing an MSc studying culture and conflict at the London School of Economics.

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