Mid-Term elections- How Significant Are They?

Mid-term elections are the elections (held in the U.S) for the whole of the House of Republicans and 1/3 of the Senate that occur midway through the President’s 4-year term in office. 

There are countless times during my levels when I asked myself “What’s so important about this topic I’m learning? Why does it matter?”. I loved Politics, but I also wanted to know that the particular topics I was learning had some significance to U.S Politics as a whole. When I got this question as a homework assignment, I laughted: “That is exactly what I’ve been asking myself“.

If you too have been asking yourself what the importance of midterm elections is, or if you have to do this essay for your A-levels, or both, you’re in luck because today I’ll be answering this question in this article 🙂

Mid-Term Elections- are they important?

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(1). The fact that mid-term elections can make the president’s agenda more or less difficult to achieve suggests that they are significant, because the consequence of the Seperation of Powers is that the President has limited power to affect legislation, thus suppport in Congress for the policies he wishes to implement is important to him.

In 2002, Bush increased his majority in both Houses of Congress, allowing him with greater ease to pass great measures following the 9/11 attacks. Contrastingly, in 1994, Clinton lost his House majority to Republicans; thus he was forced to adopt more fiscally conservative bills such as the Line Item Veto Act of 1996.

Midterms may also set the agenda for the next two years and provide party platforms for launching certain campaigns, for example the 6 for ’06 program in 2006 by the Democrats, which was followed by the achievement of a majority in Congress showed support for more liberal policies– this led to the Democrats endorsing healthcare reform in the 2008 presidential elections.

(2). Mid-term elections are also significant in that they are a measure of public opinion on both the performance of the incumbent President and the party in control of Congress. The losses in the House of Representatives for the Democrats in 2010, for example, were a message of discontent of ‘runaway’ government spending, leading to a later more moderate line of spending by President Obama.

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(1). On the other hand, it could be countered that the arguemnt that Mid-terms offer a verdict on the performance of the President is less significant to Presidents in their last term of office.

In addition, Mid-terms are more significant for the House of Representatives than the Senate, because all 435 seats in the House are up for election during the Mid-terms, whereas in the Senate it is only 1/3 of the Seats that are up for any contestation.

Perhaps the most significant limitation of the importance of Mid-terms is their low turnout, which it may be argued reflects the low importance they are seen by people to have. The turnout of Mid-terms is often around 40%– that’s less than half the voting population! The problem with the low turnout is that it decreases the level of democracy, and thus legitimacy, of the Mid-terms.

Another problem with Mid-terms that limits their importance is the power and likelihood of incumbency (staying elected-keeping the position one is elected to). This, especially in the House, makes many elections uncompetetive, arguably limiting the significance of the Mid-terms (perhaps also one of the reasons for low turnout).

On the other hand, it’s also important to remember that in the Senate, the majority party has influence over the U.S Supreme court nominees because although they are chosen by the President, they must be confirmed byt he Senate, and so it could be seen that the results of Mid-terms have the power to affect this. Considering how, in forcing the government to be accountable to the people, the Mid-terms also uphold the Founding Fathers’ principles of limited government and democracy, they are certainly significant, although the extent of their importance is a decision best left up to you.


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