Democrats perform better than expected in US midterms, but both Senate and House remain in doubt

Mariam Zuhaib/AP/AAP
Mariam Zuhaib/AP/AAP

The US midterm elections occurred Tuesday, with polls closing from late Wednesday morning AEDT. There are many results still outstanding, but Democrats have gained Pennsylvania in the Senate, and appear likely to hold Arizona, while Republicans will probably hold Wisconsin.

In Nevada, with all election day and early votes counted, Republican Adam Laxalt leads in the Senate by 49.9-47.2. Democrats will hope late mail will overturn Laxalt’s current lead.

The Senate contest in Georgia is likely headed to a runoff on December 6, with neither Democrat Raphael Warnock nor his Republican opponent Herschel Walker able to obtain the 50% needed to avoid a runoff owing to the presence of a Libertarian candidate who won 2.0%.

If current results hold up, Democrats would hold 49 Senate seats (including two independents who caucus with Democrats), Republicans 49 and there would be a runoff in Georgia, with Nevada in doubt. Current called results according to CNN are 48 Democrats and 48 Republicans with four undecided.

If Democrats win both Nevada and Arizona, they will control the Senate regardless of the result in Georgia through Vice President Kamala Harris’ casting vote. The final FiveThirtyEight forecast had given Republicans a 59% chance to win the Senate, so this outcome was better than expected for Democrats.

35 of the 100 Senate seats were up for election at these elections, with Republicans holding 21 and Democrats 14. In the House of Representatives, all 435 seats were up for election, and it takes 218 seats to win a majority.

Read more: With two days until US midterm elections, Republicans will probably win control of both chambers of Congress

CNN’s current projections have Republicans winning 198 House seats and Democrats 178. Republicans have gained nine seats from Democrats, but have lost three, so the net gain is six to Republicans. Democrats won the House by 222-213 at the 2020 election, so a six-seat gain would be barely enough for Republicans to secure a 219-216 House majority.

However, a narrow Republican House majority would fall well short of expectations of sweeping gains. And Democrats remain a realistic chance to hold the House. The final FiveThirtyEight forecast had given Republicans an 84% chance to win the House.

With President Joe Biden’s net approval at about -10 and high inflation, Republicans should have performed much better. Since 2006, every midterm election has seen the non-presidential party easily win control of the House.

Republicans’ underperformance could be because voters thought they were too wedded to former President Donald Trump, who is still very much in the news. Trump’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 54.3% unfavourable, 39.9% favourable (net -14.4).

And there was also the abortion issue after the US Supreme Court’s decision in late June to strike out the constitutional right to an abortion.

Overall, the results were better than expected for Democrats, but there was one state with a massive Republican wave.

Florida used to be considered a swing state, and voted for Barack Obama at the 2012 presidential election. But at this election, Republican Marco Rubio was re-elected senator by over 16 points and Republican Ron DeSantis, who is seen as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, won by more than 19 points. Republicans also gained three House seats.

While today’s results are better than expected for Democrats, they face a very difficult Senate election in 2024, when they will be defending 23 of the 33 seats up and Republicans just ten. Democrats will be defending seats in West Virginia, Ohio and Montana, which Trump won easily in both 2016 and 2020.

This article is republished from The Conversation is the world's leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne.

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Adrian Beaumont does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.