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President Trump delivers the 2018 State of the Union to Congress.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Midterm Exams

A lot is at stake for President Trump and the nation in this year’s midterm elections

What do you and President Trump have in common? You’ll both soon be sweating your midterms.

The congressional elections that take place midway through a president’s term are known as midterms. Even though President Trump, a Republican, won’t be on the ballot, how well his party performs in the November vote is seen as an important test of the president’s popularity.

And President Trump is probably a big part of why interest in this year’s midterms seems to be higher than usual.

“Trump always talks about how he’s good for ratings, and I think that’s right,” says Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “There’s a lot of intensity of emotion about politics on both sides. A lot of people are passionate supporters of the president, and a lot of people are very angry at the president.”

Kondik thinks all that emotion will translate into higher voter turnout than usual for the midterms.

What do you and President Trump have in common? You’ll both soon be sweating your midterms.

The congressional elections that take place midway through a president’s term are known as midterms. President Trump, a Republican, won’t be on the ballot, but the November vote is still critical to him. How well his party performs is seen as an important test of the president’s popularity.

And President Trump is probably a big part of why interest in this year’s midterms seems to be higher than usual.

“Trump always talks about how he’s good for ratings, and I think that’s right,” says Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “There’s a lot of intensity of emotion about politics on both sides. A lot of people are passionate supporters of the president, and a lot of people are very angry at the president.”

Kondik thinks all that emotion will lead to higher voter turnout than usual for the midterms.

The Party Out of Power

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election, along with 35 out of 100 U.S. Senate seats and 36 state governors.  

It’s the norm for the party out of power to make large gains in midterms. In fact, in 36 of the 39 midterm elections since 1862, the president’s party has lost seats in Congress. Those numbers suggest that voters often want Congress to act as a brake on the president’s authority, says Kondik.

With Republicans currently controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, many experts consider it likely that Democrats will do well next month. The most likely place for Democrats to pick up seats is the House of Representatives. Currently, Democrats hold 193 seats and Republicans hold 237 (see map). To take control of the House, Democrats would need to hold onto the seats they already have, win two vacant seats in solidly Democratic districts, and win 23 seats currently held by Republicans. 

The Senate is closely divided: Republicans hold 51 seats, while Democrats (and the two Independents who caucus with them) hold 49. Democrats are less likely to make gains here because many more Democratic senators are up for re-election this year than Republicans, including 10 Democrats in Republican-leaning states.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election, along with 35 out of 100 U.S. Senate seats and 36 state governors.

It’s the norm for the party out of power to make large gains in midterms. In fact, in 36 of the 39 midterm elections since 1862, the president’s party has lost seats in Congress. Those numbers suggest that voters often want Congress to act as a brake on the president’s authority, says Kondik. 

Republicans currently control both chambers of Congress and the White House. Many experts consider it likely that Democrats will do well next month. The most likely place for Democrats to pick up seats is the House of Representatives. Currently, Democrats hold 193 seats and Republicans hold 237 (see map). To take control of the House, Democrats would need to hold onto the seats they already have, win two vacant seats in solidly Democratic districts, and win 23 seats currently held by Republicans.

The Senate is closely divided. Republicans hold 51 seats. Democrats (and the two Independents who caucus with them) hold 49. Many more Democratic senators are up for re-election this year than Republicans. That includes the 10 Democrats up for election in Republican-leaning states. These conditions suggest that Democrats are less likely to make gains in the Senate. 

Will strong feelings about Trump mean higher voter turnout?

Hanging over all of these races are the president’s poll numbers. While most Republicans support Trump—85 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll—his approval ratings with the entire electorate have been hovering below 40 percent, compared with the average presidential approval rating of more than 50 percent.

Frank Luntz, a longtime Republican pollster, says some Republican candidates are facing difficult races because independent voters are turned off by the president and leaning toward Democratic candidates.

Which party controls Congress for the next two years could have an enormous impact on Trump’s presidency—and the nation. It affects the extent to which Trump is able to carry out his administration’s priorities, including building a wall on the border with Mexico, lowering taxes, and curtailing immigration to the U.S. But in Trump’s case, the effect of the midterms could be much greater than usual.

Hanging over all of these races are the president’s poll numbers. Most Republicans support Trump—85 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll. But his approval ratings with the entire electorate have been hovering below 40 percent. That’s lower than the average presidential approval rating of more than 50 percent.

Frank Luntz, a longtime Republican pollster, says some Republican candidates are facing difficult races because independent voters are turned off by the president and leaning toward Democratic candidates.

Which party controls Congress for the next two years could have an enormous impact on Trump’s presidency and the nation. It affects the extent to which Trump is able to carry out his administration’s priorities. Trump’s agenda includes building a wall on the border with Mexico and lowering taxes. He’s also pushing to cut immigration to the U.S. But in Trump’s case, the effect of the midterms could be much greater than usual.

Jim McMahon

Voter Turnout Is Key

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether anyone in the Trump campaign worked with the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win. And the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has told a federal court that Trump directed him to make illegal payments to silence two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

If Democrats control the House of Representatives, that body is much more likely to launch investigations into these and other matters. The House could also consider impeachment proceedings against the president, a move that many Democratic voters are calling for.

On the Senate side, Democratic control would, among other things, halt the administration’s ability to get conservative judges confirmed.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the party out of power will do well in a midterm. The key, as with any election, is voter turnout (see “Why I’m Registering Voters,” below), and whichever party convinces more people to show up at the polls will prevail.

The hard part is getting voters—whether they’re Republicans, Democrats, or Independents—to understand that Congress has a real impact on our lives by making our laws and deciding how to spend taxpayers’ money.

“People often dismiss the importance of midterms,” says Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “But the truth is they’re just as, if not more, important than presidential elections.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether anyone in the Trump campaign worked with the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win. And the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has told a federal court that Trump directed him to make illegal payments to silence two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

If Democrats control the House of Representatives, that body is much more likely to launch investigations into these and other matters. The House could also consider impeachment proceedings against the president. That’s a move that many Democratic voters are calling for.

On the Senate side, Democratic control would mean big changes. For one, it would halt the administration’s ability to get conservative judges confirmed. 

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the party out of power will do well in a midterm. The key, as with any election, is voter turnout (see “Why I’m Registering Voters,” below). That means whichever party gets more people to show up at the polls will prevail.

The hard part is getting voters—whether they’re Republicans, Democrats, or Independents—to understand that Congress has a real impact on our lives by making our laws and deciding how to spend taxpayers’ money.

“People often dismiss the importance of midterms,” says Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “But the truth is they’re just as, if not more, important than presidential elections.”

Why I’m Registering Voters

By Diana Zaragoza, 18

Gregg Segal Photography

Zaragoza is a senior at Eastside High School in Lancaster, California.

MOST OF MY LIFE, I knew nothing about voting. I figured that if you were an American citizen, you could show up at the polls. It turns out that’s not true; you have to register to vote before you’re able to cast a ballot on Election Day.

The problem is that not everyone knows this, which causes people to miss out on their chance to have a say. In fact, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the voting process. I decided to help fix that. In March, I started volunteering to register voters with a nonprofit called NextGen America. After school and on weekends, I head to areas where there are large crowds, such as farmers’ markets and local parks, and ask people if they’re registered. If they’re not—or if they’re confused by the voting laws—I walk them through what they need to do and help them register on the spot.

Most people are really appreciative of what we do. I speak both English and Spanish, which is helpful because a lot of Latinos live in my area. Many people in this community think they can’t vote, but I explain to them that yes, they can!

I’m so proud of the work I’ve done. Some of the volunteers aren’t old enough to cast a ballot, but we’re still making a big difference in the voting process. After all, retweeting and sharing political posts on social media can be good for raising awareness, but nothing produces as much change as voting.

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