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2018 U.S. Midterm Election Results: Implications for President Trump’s Domination of the GOP and the Re-Election
2018.11.14  Wednesday
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Jee-Kwang Park

2018 U.S. Midterm Election Results:

Implications for President Trump’s Domination of the GOP and the Re-Election


No. 2018-45 (November 14, 2018)

Dr. Park Jee-Kwang

Director, Center for American Studies

The Sejong Institute


On November 6, the U.S. midterm elections were held, an election that serves as a barometer for the Trump administration’s approval in the middle of Trump’s term. As the midterm election results unfolded as many experts, including the author, predicted the Republicans hold on to the Senate while the Democrats take the control of the House the results appeared slightly damped, unlike the heated campaign. Even so, President Trump celebrated that the Republicans increased their seats at the Senate, tweeting “tremendous success” before the final results were announced. It is interesting to note that Trump, being a genius of self-promotion and self-parade, attributed the success to himself, saying that this victory is his victory rather than the Republican victory.

Because the ruling party lost 30 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate on average at the midterm elections since the Second World War, the Republicans could call this election a success as it obtained more seats at the Senate. However, it is spurious to ascribe this success to the ‘Trump effect.’ Since the Republicans needed to secure 9 seats out of 35 seats up for grabs to maintain its majority status, they had a head start. Therefore, the Republicans were able to increase their margin fortunately because the constituencies open for this elections were conservative-leaning states, not depending on Trump’s support rallies. For example, the Democrats lost Senate seats in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota the Midwest where the Democrats are difficult to uphold even without Trump. Because of these factors, many analysts had foreseen the increase in Republican seat at the Senate by this election.

Viewing the House election results together, the Republicans won at constituencies where the conservative constituents take up the majority and lost in adverse conditions. Meanwhile, the polls suggest that the centrist voters voted for Democrats more this time compared to the presidential and legislative elections in 2016. These facts indicate the limitations of President Trump. While he has a great appeal to the conservative population, he failed to entice liberal and even middle-of-the-road voters for the last two years.

Nevertheless, this election did not verify any ‘anti-Trump sentiment’ emerging among the public. Despite recapturing the majority in the House with 35 more seats, the Democrats cannot celebrate hugely with fanfare because they won by a less-than-expected gap. It does not seem encouraging for the Democrats to see 35 seat increase, considering that it made all-out efforts in collaboration with liberal media and civic organizations and the youth and female voters appeared more at the ballot box. The left-leaning CNN also analyzed as “victory without a party” downplaying the blue wave.

Moreover, Democrat candidates won with less than 53% of the votes in 33 voting districts in 7 districts, Democrat candidates won 53% votes and other Democratic candidates won less than 52% in 26 districts. Noting that the Republicans won by 53% or less only in 11 districts at the 2016 House elections, it manifests how close the Democrat victory was in this midterm election. Because President Trump is currently predicted to snatch victory at the upcoming presidential elections in 2020, it seems particularly difficult for the Democrats to retain seats in these voting districts at the 2020 House elections.

In brief, The Huffington Post Korea summarized the election appropriately “Trump’s standing remains intact and the Democrats are still unprepared [for the presidential elections] and the election verified the possibility of Trump’s re-election success as the New York Times analyzed.


Factors that Influenced this Election

Considering the events occurred before the midterm elections, the sudden factors that could have affected the elections failed to give an impact in the elections. First, the ‘hate crimes’ such as the mail bombing attempt against notable critics of Trump and Pittsburgh synagogue shooting appeared to have a trivial influence on the elections. As these hate crimes and shootings occasionally occur in the U.S., it did not play as a decisive factor in this election trail.

Furthermore, the Democrat congressmen who raised the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Judge Nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the confirmation hearing have unexpectedly suffered difficult times during the campaign or even failed to be re-elected. It could be construed as a backlash against the Democratic Party’s strategy that attempted to frame Kavanaugh within the bigger picture of ‘Me Too’ movement. As the U.S. has a longstanding tradition of respecting the independence of the judicial branch, the general public did not receive well the Democrats behavior as originally intended taking the Supreme Judge confirmation hearing a scene of excessive political strife.

Additionally, the Trump campaign strategy to capitalize on the ‘caravan’ issue to galvanize the anti-immigration voters did not help the Republicans win votes. The Republican candidates who contested at the elections in the states that face illegal immigration bordering Mexico won votes as predicted before the ‘caravan’ issue surfaced. This indicates that the ‘caravan’ issue did not play a significant role at this election.