The 2016 presidential election has been one of the most unusual contests in modern American history and so there has been intense media focus on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. According to Dagens Nyheter, the two candidates have been mentioned in Swedish media more than 26,000 times this year, compared to 16,000 times in 2012, making it easy to forget that the presidential contest is not the only choice American voters face next Tuesday. They will also vote to elect officials at every level of government, such as local judges, state governors, and members of Congress. Crucially, the Senate hangs in the balance as well.
WATCH: Alex Lange, JKL Political Analyst, on Aftonbladet Morgon about the importance of the Senate contests
This year, 34 Senate seats are being voted on, 24 of which are currently held by the Republican Party, and 10 of which are held by Democrats. Five Republican seats look particularly vulnerable in the final days of the campaign: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, and New Hampshire. And only one seat held by Democrats, the seat being vacated by Senator Harry Reid in Nevada, is also in danger. If the Democratic Party can gain five seats, they will have a majority in the Senate for the next two years.
The House of Representatives is safely in Republican hands, even though it is reelected in its entirety every two years. Thanks to the 2010 redistricting reform when Republicans had significant wins at the state level, districts are currently drawn in a way that gives the Republican Party an almost guaranteed majority in the House, even if they lose the national popular vote.
What would it mean if the Democrats are able to win the Senate, but Republicans hold the House of Representatives? The Senate has confirmation power over many of the administrative and judicial appointments that presidents make, including cabinet secretaries, regulatory officials, and – most importantly – the Supreme Court and other federal judges. If the next President’s party also controls the senate, she or he will likely be able to change the course of the Supreme Court for years to come, which will impact issues like environmental regulation, social issues, and voting rights.
The current Republican Senate has refused to act on President Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. That means the next president will fill at least one seat – potentially up to two or three – on the court, unless the Senate continues to refuse to confirm the appointee.
Without the House of Representatives also being controlled by the party that wins the White House and the Senate, major legislative reforms are unlikely to happen in the current atmosphere of anti-bipartisanship. But having control over the Senate still allows a party to schedule the chamber’s legislative agenda, putting pressure on the House to act as well, which would provide another tool for a President to implement their agenda.
So next Tuesday, make sure to also pay attention to the results for the Senate. Their outcome will greatly affect the ability of the next President to advance her or his agenda.
By Alex Lange, JKL Political Analyst