Guide to the 2022 US Midterm Elections
What are midterm elections and why are they important?
You may have recently heard phrases such as “Democrats retain control of the Senate,” “Republicans take control of the House of Representatives,” or “control of Congress remains undecided.” To understand these phrases and make sense of the recent US elections, it's important to start with the basics.
The United States Government is made up of three branches that “check” and “balance” each other: the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judiciary.. The Legislative Branch, also called “Congress”, is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, these two legislative bodies legislate, or enact laws. The President and Vice President, who form the Executive Branch, execute these laws, and the Supreme Court, which forms the Judicial Branch, evaluates them. Although the three branches also include federal organizations and agencies, this description provides a basic picture of how the United States Government works.
What are midterm elections?
Every four years, American citizens vote in a presidential election., electing a person to serve as President for the following four years. However, Congress runs on a different calendar; senators are elected every six years, while members of the House of Representatives are elected every two. This means that halfway through each president's term, during midterm elections, American voters have the opportunity to change the composition of Congress.
And why are they important?
Mid-term elections are important because they determine the representatives of the people in the Government. However, they can also be seen as an opportunity for citizens to further “control” the power of the president. In almost all midterm elections, voters choose to shift the balance of power in Congress in favor of the party that does not control the executive branch. For example, as a result of the 2014 midterm elections, which took place during the second term of Democratic President Barack Obama, Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate.
And this brings us to the 2022 midterm elections, which have produced some surprising results. Going back to the Senate, before the 2022 midterm elections, the Democrats had a majority. As a result of the historic trend of shifting control of Congress during Half Days, as well as polls predicting a "Red Wave" of Republican electoral victories, many Americans believed that Republicans were poised to regain control of the Senate. However, the Democrats retained control of the upper house of Congress; the party won 50 of the 100 seats, leaving the Republicans with 49. Although the final Senate seat will be determined by a runoff election on December 6 in the state of Georgia, the Democrats will retain control of the Senate regardless . In the case of an equal share, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris has the tiebreaking vote in the Senate.
And what about the House of Representatives?
While Democrats controlled the House before the recent midterm elections, control has officially passed to the Republican Party. As of November 18, Republicans control 218 of the 435 seats, precisely the number needed to form a majority. Although there are five seats undecided, even if the Democrats won all the remaining elections, they would be just short of a majority with 217 seats. The remaining five seats are races to be determined by postal vote, with results due to be counted sometime next week. In any case, the Republicans have managed to regain control of the House.
What do these results mean?
First, objectively speaking, Democratic control of the Senate will continue to allow Biden to push his agenda in two ways. Primarily, Biden will continue to have veto power over Congress. While US presidents can veto, or reject, laws passed by Congress, Congress can override that veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses. Thus, with half of the Senate under Democratic control, the Republicans lack the necessary votes to override the possible vetoes that Biden can carry out. Second, this majority allows Biden to continue appointing federal and Supreme Court judges. Although presidents always have the ability to nominate judges, their appointment requires confirmation by a simple majority -51 votes- in the Senate.
On the other hand, Republican control of the House of Representatives gives this party significant power in the legislative arena. The House of Representatives, like the Senate, has a series of Commissions, ranging from the Budget to Foreign Affairs or Agriculture. These committees review bills, or proposed laws, that come within their purview, and decide whether to return the bills to the House for a vote. In other words, committees control the legislation that can be voted on in the House of Representatives. With new control of the House, Republicans can now nominate and elect members of House Committees, allowing them to control House legislation.
Finally, the subjective interpretation of the midterm elections, although not so simple, is important. For example, the fact that the Democrats hold the Senate does not necessarily mean that American voters think highly of it. In fact, just before Election Day, Reuters reported that the president's national approval ratings had dipped to just 39%. Looking at the other side of the coin, what the results could represent is a rejection of the predicted “red wave” and of the extreme right. Voters not only chose to keep the Senate in the hands of the Democrats, but in state elections across the country they rejected the extremist Republicans who denied the results of the 2020 elections. However, unraveling the meaning and consequences of Midterms is difficult and I hesitate to do it with conviction. The impending 2024 presidential election will undoubtedly shed more light on the perspectives and values of the American people.
By Shira Garbis, Guest Author at the International Institute