Americans have elections every two years, alternating between Presidential election years (2016, 2020, 2024, etc.) and Midterm election years (2018, 2022, 2026, etc.). The next US election is the Midterm election on November 8, 2022. On that date:
- All US voters will vote for a member of the House of Representatives
- Voters in 34 out of 50 states will vote for a Senator
- Voters in 36 states will vote for a Governor, and in most states will vote for other so-called down-ballot races (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Judges, Sheriffs, School Boards, etc.).
In the US, there are today only two dominant political Parties: Democrats and Republicans. The way Congress functions, the Party that has a majority in each Chamber has total control over the work of that Chamber, and as the system of checks and balances requires approval of both the Senate and the House of Representatives for any legislation to pass, majority control of Congress is a prize both political Parties desperately seek. Midterms are extremely important: they decide which Party controls the two Houses of Congress for the next two years, the second half of every Presidential administration.
Politics is a highly uncertain business, but if there is one rule in the US political scene, it is that the President’s party always loses Congressional seats in Midterm elections, and usually the loss is quite large – this has happened for the House of Representatives for 17 of the last 19 Midterm Elections since 1946 and for the Senate in 13 out of the last 19. In a Presidential Election voters typically give a winning President an increase in that Party’s representatives in Congress, but two years later in Midterm Congressional elections, voters penalize the President’s Party, often severally. And the loss tends to be very large if the President has a low approval rating at the time of Midterms.
In September, 2022, 56% of Americans disapprove of the way President Biden is handling his job, only 42% approve, a rating similar to 5 of 7 recent Presidents at the same juncture of their administrations: each lost a large number of congressional seats in the Midterms, from 15 to 63 seats. The Democratic Party currently has only a 6-seat majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate is tied 50-50; history indicates that the Democrats are highly likely to lose the majority in both Chambers. The latest polls confirm the likelihood the Democrats will lose control of the House, but there might be an exception to the rule for the Senate, where Democrats are currently forecast to have a reasonable chance to retain control.
The stakes are high: if after the Midterm election the two houses of Congress are controlled by opposing Parties, we can expect partisan gridlock, no new major legislative initiatives, dysfunctional government including funding crises and efforts by the Republican-controlled House to launch investigations against the Biden administration, including possibly seeking to impeach the President, not a good recipe for the reputation of the US nor for its leadership in the world.
In that scenario, witnessing his domestic agenda totally blocked, President Biden may well follow the path of many past US Presidents who during the second half of their term focused on an international agenda, where they had greater independence of movement.
Next week: Senate Midterm Elections.
 The first in a weekly series of articles on the US Midterm Elections, appearing on Mondays
 Author of “Rendez-Vous with America, an Explanation of the US Election System“, President of the American Club of Lisbon. Opinions expressed herein are personal and not those of the American Club of Lisbon. Comments welcomed to PSL64@icloud.com