Four things we’ve learned about America from the midterm elections - News @ Northeastern
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Four things we’ve learned about America from the midterm elections

Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but Republicans retained control of the Senate, as the 2018 midterm elections resulted in shakeups, but something short of a broad repudiation of the divisive leadership style of President Donald Trump.   

“We’ll have a divided government once again in America,” said Northeastern political science professor Costas Panagopoulos. “This is one of the reasons why we think the president’s party loses seats in the House in midterm elections, because voters want a balance of power in Washington. This is one way of doing that.”

Here are four big takeaways from Panagopoulos and political science professor Nick Beauchamp.

1) The expected ‘blue wave’ was more of a blue splash

Democrats needed to gain 23 seats in the House to hold the majority. As of Wednesday morning they had won 26, unseating incumbents in several districts that had voted for Trump. However, the result fell short of a nationwide expression of dissatisfaction with Trump’s leadership, Panagopoulos said.

“Even though Democrats had a good night in the House, there is not much evidence of substantial blue wave that had been widely predicted,” he said. “This may not have been a wholesale repudiation, but the message is that they want to put the brakes on Trump and Republican policies, or at least some of what we’re seeing in Washington.”

Beauchamp said the results in Congress fell in line with historical norms for a midterm in which the president’s approval rating is in the 40 to 45 percent range.

In one exit poll, 38 percent of voters said they cast their votes to express opposition to Trump, while 26 percent said they were voting to support Trump.

The Democrats captured the House on Tuesday night following record-high turnout across the country for midterm elections. The New York Times estimated that 114 million votes were cast in the House, compared to 83 million votes in 2014.

2) Republicans won the key toss-up races to increase their majority in the Senate

The margin for error for Democrats to take the Senate was small. Republicans won a very close Senate race in Florida, as well as in Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke narrowly missed out on unseating Republican Ted Cruz. Republicans defeated incumbent Democrats in Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri.

“Gaining control in the Senate was always an uphill battle” for the Democrats, Panagopoulos said.

Trump, incidentally, did not consider the results a defeat. He tweeted “Tremendous success tonight” on Tuesday night.

3) A Democrat-controlled house may cause discomfort for Trump, but not a huge change in the amount of legislation passed

Democrats “can now put up a fight to oppose the policies of the Trump administration,” Panagopoulos said.  

The Republican-controlled Congress has not passed much legislation in Trump’s first two years, so in one sense, the change will not be as dramatic as in previous instances when control of House has switched parties, Beauchamp said.  

But now that Democrats will hold the majority of seats on House oversight committees, they will likely press forward on investigations into the financial dealings of the president and members of his administration, and could revive inquiries into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian officials and agents.

“The main thing is that we’ll see quite a lot more committee action and hearings,” Beauchamp said.

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that if the Democrats launch investigations of Republicans at the House level, the Republican-controlled Senate will consider investigating Democrats. He said in his tweet, “Two can play that game!”

4) More women than ever won seats in “a historic milestone.”

A record 277 female candidates ran for Congress and governors’ offices in the 2018 midterms. More than 100 women will take office in Congress, the largest number everwhich Panagopoulos called “a historic milestone.”

Beauchamp said the wave of women running for and winning office in the midterms represents a “groundswell that will continue to be energized” ahead of the 2020 election and regardless of whether Trump is re-elected.

“This energy I think is going to continue through at least one more election,” he said. “That could produce a much bigger shift.”

The rise of female candidates saw other historic firsts. Tennessee elected its first-ever female senator, Republican Marsha Blackburn. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman. And Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas, and Debra Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, became the first Native American women elected to the House.

For media inquiries, please contact Mike Woeste at m.woeste@northeastern.edu or 617.373.5718.

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