Halfway There: The Midterm Elections

by Reinout Debergh

On November 8, important congressional elections will take place in the US. The results will have an important impact on what President Biden will be able to achieve in the next two years. And forecasts indicate it will be a close race. 

Who is being elected?

The midterm election is a congressional election that occurs halfway through the president’s term of office [1]. In the House, all 435 seats are up for election, while in the Senate only 35 of the 100 seats will be on the ballot [2]. The latter has been determined by the Constitution [3]. Of the 35 seats, 21 seats are held by the Republicans and 14 by the Democrats [4]. The map below shows which states have senate elections. 

Figure 1: States with senator elections (blue = currently Democratic, red = currently Republican) [4].

In addition, 36 states will also elect a governor [2]. 20 of those currently have a Republican governor, while the other 16 have a Democratic governor [5].

Figure 2: Map showing which states will elect a governor in the midterms. The color indicates the party of the current governor (blue = Democrat, red = Republican) [5].

Representatives of the House are elected for two-year terms, while senators are elected for six-year terms [6]. Governors are elected for four-year terms except in New Hampshire and Vermont (two-year terms) [7]. But not anyone can run for office. There are certain requirements set out in the Constitution as listed in the table below [6].

House of Representatives [6]Senate [6]Governor [7]
– At least 25 years old
– A US citizen for at least 7 years
– Live in the state at the time of the election
– At least 30 years old
– A US citizen for at least 9 years
– Live in the state at the time of the election
– Minimum age ranging from no requirement to 35 years
– US citizenship ranging from no requirement to 20 years
– State residency ranging from no requirement to 7 years

When is it happening?

The general election will happen on Tuesday November 8. This is due to a federal law passed in 1845 assigning the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as Election Day [8]. Two states (Georgia and Louisiana) may have an additional runoff election between the top two candidates if no candidate gains a majority [9]. For Georgia it would be December 6 and for Louisiana it would be December 10 [10]. 

Before the general election, there are primaries which have already taken place, with the exception of Louisiana. These are elections where people decide who will represent their party in the general election. In Louisiana, if a candidate has a majority in their November 8 primaries, that candidate wins the general election [10].

Why is it important?

Biden’s term so far has been characterized by struggling to pass legislation in a sharply divided Congress as shown by the Build Back Better Act [11]. The President himself said it would be a “difficult two years” if the Democrats lost Congress. While he will still be able to veto potential bills from Republicans, Democrats would be largely limited to relying on presidential executive orders to take any sort of action [12]. Bipartisan bills would, in theory, still be possible, but are unlikely when it comes to key Democratic policies such as around climate change, abortion rights, and gun violence. 

Two key issues that will have a major influence on the results of the general election and thus the ability of Democrats to enact policies are abortion rights and inflation. Abortion has led to a strong increase in voter registration among women which is not limited to Democrats but has been the case for both parties. This has already helped Democrats maintain a House seat in the 19th District in New York last August. On the other hand, Republicans are using inflation against Democrats in order to attract voters [13].

Democracy itself is at stake as well. Republicans at the state level continue to restrict access to ballots and are putting in place tools to use future fraud claims in their favor. As they continue to repeat Trump’s claims of election fraud, Republican success at the midterms could further limit voting rights [13]. Additionally, if they gain the House, they would be in charge of investigative committees including the one regarding January 6. Some Republicans even said they would start an impeachment procedure against President Biden [14].

And then there is Donald Trump himself. He has been endorsing candidates across the US. This shows he still has a significant influence in the GOP with Trump-backed candidates winning in states including Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and Wyoming [13]. How well those candidates do in the general elections, both in Congress and for governor, could have an impact on Trump’s standing within the GOP. If Republicans do not do as well as they would have been expected to, questions will arise and Trump’s attempt at a second term in 2024 might be called in question [15]. 

But it’s not only about Congress. Governors can play a key role as they are responsible for implementing state law. While the scope of the governor’s power may vary across states, all have the power to veto state legislation [16]. This is particularly important for abortion rights which after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade is up to the states to decide [17], but also for climate change. US states have an important role as shown with the U.S. Climate Alliance, especially if federal leadership on this issue is absent [18]. 

What do the forecasts say?

While six months ago Republicans had a good chance to win a majority in both houses, this has changed since [19]. Democrats are likely to keep control of the Senate as the Republican party (GOP) is facing issues with struggling candidates for the Senate general election and infighting [13, 19]. The Republicans’ lead in the House has been reduced to only about four to twelve seats (depending on which forecast) [19]. Figure 3 below shows forecasts from three different sources. However, given that these are averages and the race is quite close, there is no absolute certainty of who will win a majority in each house. For example, in the simulations by the Economist, Democrats still have a 35% chance of keeping the House, while Republicans have a 20% chance of obtaining a majority in the Senate [20]. 

Figure 3: Averaged projections as of 22/10/2022 on the percentage of seats Democrats would obtain after the elections. For Politico, so-called toss-up states were equally divided among Republicans and Democrats [20-22].

If Republicans win at least one of the houses congressional gridlock on several topics seems likely to worsen; especially regarding abortion, climate change, and gun violence. If they win both houses, President Biden already said he would “veto anything they do” regarding women’s rights [23].

As things are close, states where the race is close (battleground states/districts), will receive particular attention during the elections. For the Senate those are: Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Alaska [24]. For the House, there are 37 battleground districts (too many to list here) particularly in California, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania [25].

The election is approaching and all eyes will be on the US on November 8. ClimaTalk will report on the results. Stay tuned!


[1] Patterson, T., 2019, We the people: an introduction to American government, McGraw-Hill Education, Edition 13, ISBN 978-1-259-91240-5.
[2] 2022 Midterms, CNN Politics, https://edition.cnn.com/election/2022, accessed on 24/09/2022.
[3] About Electing and Appointing Senators, United States Senate, https://www.senate.gov/about/origins-foundations/electing-appointing-senators.htm, accessed on 24/09/2022.
[4] United States Senate elections, 2022, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Congress_elections,_2022, accessed on 24/09/2022.
[5] Gubernatorial elections, 2022, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Gubernatorial_elections,_2022, accessed on 24/09/2022.
[6] How Congress Works, Congressman Tim Walberg representing the 7th district of Michigan, https://walberg.house.gov/about/how-congress-works, accessed on 24/09/2022.
[7] Governors’ Powers & Authority, National Governors Association, https://www.nga.org/governors/powers-and-authority/, accessed on 24/09/2022.
[8] Andrews, E., Why Is Election Day a Tuesday in November?, History, https://www.history.com/news/why-is-election-day-a-tuesday-in-november, accessed on 25/09/2022.
[9] Runoff election, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Runoff_election, accessed on 25/09/2022.
[10] 2022 Midterm Election Calendar, 270toWin, https://www.270towin.com/2022-election-calendar/, accessed on 25/09/2022.
[11] Debergh, R., BBBA: Current Status, ClimaTalk, https://climatalk.org/2022/03/18/bbba-current-status/, accessed on 02/10/2022.
[12] Miller, Z., Biden: ‘Difficult 2 years’ ahead if Dems lose Congress, AP News, https://apnews.com/article/2022-midterm-elections-biden-congress-government-and-politics-ef7c2cd3af2cbcf71c2fee1c68da2270, accessed on 08/10/2022.
[13] Krieg et al., Seven takeaways from the 2022 primary season, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/14/politics/midterm-primaries-2022-takeaways, accessed on 25/09/2022.
[14] McKend, E., Why the 2022 midterm elections matter, CNN, https://currently.att.yahoo.com/att/happens-republicans-win-congress-192634550.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAAPAdFIoIDB1DS9SKzYIFHcmzaDW_mx36kP4x6cKkfIPyjxSWNEi2Ieor-2l4lOsvbe1d96zBAVGjcUjUhVkTRqNFIaunxxgQ3SXhBw1zg78PsYEkHKtF44kBTg_jxxX6Okq1qyWXeiUoasdSC2vIrM8kfC1WaQpr0KaWIXSxnFF, accessed on 08/10/2022.
[15] Hudak, J., November midterms are Trump’s make-or-break moment, Brookings Institution, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2022/08/18/november-midterms-are-trumps-make-or-break-moment/, accessed on 08/10/2022.
[16] Krieg, G., These are the key governor’s races to watch this fall, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/04/politics/2022-governors-elections-midterms, accessed on 08/10/2022.
[17] Roe v. Wade Overturned: Supreme Court Gives States the Right to Outlaw Abortion, Planned Parenthood, https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion/roe-v-wade, accessed on 23/10/2022.
[18] Green, C., 7 Ways U.S. States are Leading Climate Action, United Nations Foundation, https://unfoundation.org/blog/post/7-ways-u-s-states-are-leading-climate-action/, accessed on 23/10/2022.
[19] Lindsay, J., Congressional Midterm Update: The Race Tightens, Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/blog/congressional-midterm-update-race-tightens, accessed on 22/10/2022.
[20] US midterms 2022: forecasts, The Economist, https://www.economist.com/interactive/us-midterms-2022/forecast/senate, accessed on 22/10/2022.
[21] Politico Forecast 2022, Politico, https://www.politico.com/2022-election/race-forecasts-ratings-and-predictions/, accessed on 22/10/2022. 
[22] 2022 election forecast, FiveThirtyEight, https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2022-election-forecast/, accessed on 22/10/2022.
[23] Shalal, A., Biden vows to use veto if Republicans win Congress and try to ban abortion, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/legal/biden-says-he-will-veto-if-republicans-win-congress-try-ban-abortion-nationwide-2022-10-21/, accessed on 22/10/2022.
[24] U.S. Senate battlegrounds, 2022, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._Senate_battlegrounds,_2022, accessed on 22/10/2022. 
[25] U.S. House battlegrounds, 2022, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._House_battlegrounds,_2022, accessed on 22/10/2022.  
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