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Everything you need to know about the US midterm elections

When are they? What are they? Why are they!?

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – The United States will hold its midterm elections on 8 November 2022. They will shape the second half of Joe Biden’s term as president and, ultimately, the country.

Sorry — did you say “midterms”?

Yes, they come in the middle of a president’s term.

Got it. And what do people vote on?

Members of the House of Representatives run for re-election every two years, so all 435 House seats are up for election. Thirty-five Senate seats are, too (senators hold their positions for six years). There are also numerous gubernatorial election and local elections, too.

At the moment, the Democrats control the House: they hold 221 seats to the Republicans’ 208. (Six seats are vacant.) The Senate is equally split, with 50 members from each party. Kamala Harris, the vice-president, has a tiebreaker vote so the Democrats are nominally in control.

How does the president’s party normally fare in the midterms?

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Badly. Democrats lost the House in 2010 after two years of Barack Obama’s presidency; Republicans lost the House after two years of Donald Trump.

And why does that matter?

There’s the political pundit answer and the actual answer.

The political pundit answer is that how well the president’s party fares in the midterms is generally seen as a way to see how Americans think the president is doing, and how the party will fare heading into the next presidential election. That’s true even in the case of gubernatorial elections, even though their outcomes may have more to do with state and local issues than national politics.

[See also: Biden brands Trump and the “MAGA Republicans” a threat to democracy]

Even though the next presidential election is two years away?

I’m afraid so.

American politics! And what’s the actual answer?

The actual answer is that, if Democrats lose the House, they will find it even more difficult to pass legislation than they do now. And they’re having a hard time — on voting rights, on climate change, on reproductive rights and on gun control — already. The Biden agenda will be more stalled than it already is.

Two other things.

Go ahead.

I keep reading about “redistricting” or how congressional districts are “redrawn”. What does that mean?

It means changing electoral boundaries. The census dictates how House seats are distributed between the states. We just had a new census, and so had new maps. But none of this exists in a vacuum. Gerrymandering is the process of drawing boundaries to favour one political party. Sometimes boundary changes are also criticised for curtailing minority communities’ voting power. The North Carolina supreme court, for example, struck down new maps drawn by the state’s legislature, arguing that they denied all citizens equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation. The US Supreme Court is likely to hear cases in the not too distant future to decide whether state courts will be able to continue to provide such a check on state legislatures.

Also, that congressional seats have been redrawn means some members of Congress who are in the same party are now running against each other. 

Last question. Which states should I pay particular attention?

Here at the New Statesman, we’re going to be looking at North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Florida. All of these states are, to varying degrees, swing states, and all will be important in the 2024 presidential election. Also, since some are becoming more Democratic and others more consistently elect Republicans, how they transition and who voters there elect can tell us something about the potential political future of the country. And there are political figures in those states — like the gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis — who represent different possible directions for the country.

Interesting. Where can I read that?

All of our US midterms coverage can be found right here.

[See also: What is wrong with this year’s Republican Senate candidates?]

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