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Midterm Elections 2018: A Tale of Two Chambers

On November 6, an estimated 113 million Americans took to the polls to vote in the highly anticipated 2018 midterm elections. This marked the first time in history that over 100 million votes were cast in a midterm election, with the 49 percent voter participation exceeding the 36.4 percent reported in 2014 and the 41 percent in 2010.

Despite the spike in this year’s participation and strong voter enthusiasm, these rates are consistently softer than the 55 to 62 percent generally observed for presidential or general elections, although those figures are not too impressive in themselves. Though voting is a civic duty and an essential component of a functioning democracy, we often find that registered voters simply do not show up every time or even half the time.

In the days leading up to the elections, political pundits and Democratic officials predicted a “blue wave,” an all-out referendum on President Trump’s agenda. Democrats would take control from the Republican-led Congress, winning 40 to 60 seats to overwhelmingly flip the House of Representatives (where 23 additional seats were needed) and the Senate (where three seats were needed, considering the sitting vice president is the tie-breaking vote). Surely, this year’s voter enthusiasm, anti-Trump sentiments, billions of dollars in donations and high-profile celebrity and media endorsements would be the salvation for Democrats.

History also supported these predictions. According to the independent, non-partisan newsletter Cook Political Report, since the end of the Civil War, the sitting president’s party has lost House seats in 35 out of the 38 midterm elections as well as 19 out of 26 elections since the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators) was ratified in 1913.

The Democrats were further bolstered by a slew of Republican retirements, which accounted for 23 of the 41 GOP-held seats with no incumbent on the ballot. On the Senate side, even the most heavily contested incumbents in “Trump states” could be defended, while at least a couple of new ones seemed likely to be picked up.

So what was the actual result? Certainly not the aforementioned wave of epic proportions.

Consistent with midterm history, the Democrats posted a net gain of 33 seats in the House, enough for a majority. More than half of them were in reliably Democratic states, with some local surprises scattered in Republican ones. In the Senate, however, Republicans posted a net gain of at least two seats (possibly three as of November 13, but the Florida race is undergoing a mandatory recount given the slim <0.5 percent margin), expanding their majority in the chamber.

Notably, despite some inaccurate polling that predicted otherwise, Senators Heitkamp (D-ND), McCaskill (D-MO) and Donnelly (D-IN) were unable to outlast their Republican opponents, while Senator Heller (R-NV) was defeated by his Democrat opponent.

Compared to the previous three administrations, the outcome was somewhat predictable and relatively tame. President Obama lost 63 in the House and six in the Senate in 2010. President Bush gained eight seats in the House and two in the Senate in 2002. President Clinton lost 52 in the House and eight in the Senate in 1994. Even the widely popular President Reagan lost 26 House seats in 1982.

This election cycle did yield a record number of women elected to the 116th Congress (123 versus the previous 112), including the first female senators from Tennessee (Blackburn, R-TN) and Arizona (Sinema, D-AZ).

There was enhanced diversity across the board; the first openly gay man was elected governor (Polis, D-CO), and an array of Native American, South Korean, Hispanic and Muslim candidates were also elected to office.

Politically, however, we did not learn anything on November 6 that we did not already know. Significant partisan divides exist in our government and our society, and both the Democrat and Republican sides have simply built upon their existing strengths in the elections.

Compromise is a rare commodity in Washington D.C. these days, as displayed in the bickering and party-line votes that often yield a result that half of the country disapproves of. Open and thoughtful dialogue in society and on college campuses is often dismissed in place of targeting, labeling and silencing under the guise of political correctness and an infinite knowledge that “deplorables” could not possibly understand.

Technology and interconnectedness, both good friends and formidable foes, exacerbate the divides as we are constantly exposed to information, opinions, and even misinformation and fake news. There is simply no way to avoid politics.

With a divided Congress and absent any compromise however, we will likely not see significant progress on the key issues voters are most concerned about, including healthcare, immigration and the economy. Proposals made in the Democratic House will likely hit roadblocks in the Republican Senate. Democrat-led House committees threaten to further investigate President Trump and his administration, potentially pursuing impeachment, although such actions would be more distracting than justifiable. Without cooperation from Congress, President Trump will likely seek further Executive Orders, while much of his existing agenda remains intact.

Elected officials are already talking about seeking out Trump’s tax returns and protecting the Mueller Special Counsel investigation, even though many of us would undoubtedly prefer cheaper healthcare, a more sound immigration policy, or perhaps an infrastructure bill to fix our inadequate water systems, airports, bridges, roads and subway systems. In New York, our sky-high taxes and increasing transportation fares are paying for less adequate services. That, right there, is a bad deal.

While Congress is poised to be gridlocked, unable to meaningfully shake up the status quo, we have a roaring economy and stock market, more competitive corporate tax rate and a stronger stance on foreign policy and our alliances. Mix in some bipartisan accomplishments and greater civil discourse among US citizens and perhaps, someday, all aspects of America will truly become great.

 

Photo credit: NYTimes

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