US midterms wrap up

Time I think to draw a line under the mid-term congressional elections in the United States, held three weeks ago. Two seats in the House of Representatives are officially still doubtful, but Republicans have an insurmountable lead in both; unless something odd is revealed in a recount, the Republican Party will finish with a nine-seat majority, 222-213. That’s exactly the same position as in the existing House, but in reverse.

One of the doubtfuls is the 13th district in California, where Republican John Duarte has a lead of 593 votes. His Democrat opponent, Adam Gray, made up 272 votes in counting last week, but with 99% now reportedly counted he is going to finish short. Similarly in Colorado’s third district, where conspiracy theorist Lauren Boebert suffered an unexpectedly large swing against her but still has enough of a margin to be sure (currently 554 votes).

Mention should also be made of Alaska’s single district, which many outlets kept on the doubtful list until last week, even though the result was clear from the start. We covered the by-election for this seat earlier in the year, scene of an attempted comeback by former governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. On that occasion Palin lost after preferences by a margin of about three percentage points to Democrat Mary Peltola.

The same candidates contested the seat in the general election, when Peltola, now running as the incumbent, improved her primary vote from 39.7% to 48.7%. Not surprisingly, she won comfortably on preferences, by almost ten points, but Republican solidarity improved quite a bit. Back in August, Peltola received 28.7% of the preferences of moderate Republican Nick Begich, who was eliminated; this time she only got 11.6%. Palin got two-thirds of them, whereas in the by-election it was only about half. Perhaps the party is starting to get the hang of preferential voting.

It remains to be seen just how effectively the divided Republican Party can control the House with just a single-digit majority, but at the least it will be a thorn in the side of Joe Biden for the next two years. There is also plenty of commentary around as to how much of that majority is due to favorable boundaries; that will probably be an issue to look at another time.

Counting is complete for the Senate, but a runoff election is to be held in Georgia next Tuesday. Democrat Raphael Warnock is a warm favorite to hold the seat; if he does, his party will control the Senate 51-49. If Republican Herschel Walker can pull off a win, it will be back to 50-50 – still effective Democrat control with the vice-president’s casting vote, but a less favorable position going into the 2024 election.

Democrats also had a good midterm at state level. They won half of the 36 governor’s races, for a net gain of two – picking up Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts but losing Nevada. They also seized control of four state legislative chambers: the lower house in Pennsylvania, the upper house in Minnesota and both houses in Michigan.

Geoffrey Skelley at FiveThirtyEight has a fascinating analysis of the difference between voting for governor and for senator; in the states where both were in contention, he finds that there was a median difference of 7.8 percentage points in the partisan voting for the two.

To an Australian eye, that seems very large. Our voters rarely distinguish that much between state and federal races, even though they are not held on the same day. Last Saturday’s Victorian election, for example, produced a Labor vote (two-party-preferred) of about 54%, almost identical to the 54.8% recorded there at the federal election six months earlier.

But for the US that’s actually a very low incidence of split-ticket voting. As Skelley shows, it’s been much higher in the past: there’s been a steady decline since 1998, at which time the median was an extraordinary 25 points. This time it was still big enough to lead to five states electing senators and governors from different parties, but if the trend continues then such occasions will become more and more uncommon.

Finally, in relation to the role of Donald Trump in the election result, note the conviction this morning of two members of the “Oath Keepers” organisation on charges of seditious conspiracy relating to their role in the insurrection of 6 January 2021. They are apparently the first convictions this century on such a charge, which carries a maximum of twenty years imprisonment. A number of similar prosecutions are in the pipeline.

For all that pundits keep telling us that Trump is widely popular in grassroots America, it’s striking that in this and other cases not one juror in twelve has been found willing to stick their neck out to prevent the conviction of his accomplices.


UPDATE Sunday morning: Sure enough, the media have now called California’s 13th district, where Duarte has held on to a lead of 565 votes.


5 thoughts on “US midterms wrap up

  1. >Perhaps the party is starting to get the hang of preferential voting.

    Another plausible factor – Begich’s vote went down by a net 4%, some of which likely switched to Peltola. If those people also voted 1 Begich 2 Peltola, that would leave a more solidly-Republican bloc as Begich’s voters.

    I also suspect there was some Palin > Begich movement as some Republican voters felt that Begich would have a better shot at unseating Peltola than Palin after the latter’s defeat in the special election.


    >Our voters rarely distinguish that much between state and federal races, even though they are not held on the same day.

    Is that really the case? My impression is the opposite – that state governments tend to do worse when their side is in power federally (aka federal drag). That would imply a degree of vote-splitting? Although I guess it might still be smaller than the historical American figures due to how close our elections are by contrast and our history of stronger partisanship.


    1. Thanks Ethan – yes, that’s a good point re Begich’s vote. Not surprisingly, turnout was substantially bigger than in the by-election; there’s an extra 50,000+ voters, and I suspect that’s where a lot of Peltola’s improvement came from. But no doubt switching from Begich is more likely than switching from Palin. Palin’s and Begich’s primary votes went down in much the same proportion, but some of Palin’s could as you say have moved to Begich.

      There’s definitely some differentiation in Australia between state & federal voting; some people do try to balance the two, and an unpopular govt in one certainly detracts from that party’s vote in the other. But compared to split ticket voting in the US the numbers are very small. Class-based parties here and separation of powers there probably both have something to do with it.


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