Cramming For The Midterms? Here's a 2014 Elections Cheat Sheet

December 12th 2014

Mike Vainisi

Note: This is part 1 in a 3 part series. Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3

Viewer’s Guide to the 2014 Midterm Elections

We have a simple goal today: Make it easy to follow next month’s Midterm Elections. Yes, there is an election next month, on November 4th. No, it’s not for president. Just for Congress.

Congress really does matter.

Because they lack the sex appeal of presidential elections, the Midterms get less attention. The media prefer presidential elections because, well, they’re more fun. So media outlets cover the Midterm Elections with less fervor. It’s also much harder to put together a coherent narrative for an election of 435 seats in the House and 36 in the Senate where you don’t also have the president on the ballot to be the star atop the Christmas tree. We’re drawn to stories about individuals, and the Midterms are really a story of a group.

But the rub is that the Midterm Elections are possibly as important as presidential elections. Why? Because Congress is arguably as powerful as the president. Give me three paragraphs to tell a quick story:

2009-2010: Democrats control both houses of Congress. Obama gets stuff done. Passes a huge Health Care law, the biggest economic stimulus in history, an overhaul of regulations on Wall Street, and anti-discrimination protections for women in the work place. The president hits most of his campaign promises, missing climate change legislation, which passed the House and died in the Senate. 

2011-2014: Republicans control the House after a huge win in the 2010 Midterm Elections. They block everything they don’t like and attempt to enact their own agenda through brinksmanship over the budget and the debt ceiling. But, for the most, part, nothing really happens in Congress.

So, no matter how you look at it, Congress matters quite a bit. If you’re a Republican, your party’s win in 2010 effectively ended Barack Obama’s domestic agenda. If you’re a Democrat -- and you understand how this all works -- you realize that Barack Obama’s speeches and/or backroom cajoling cannot change the fact that Republicans have a veto of the president via their control of the House.

So what’s the story in 2014?

Every seat in the House of Representatives -- all 435 of them -- are up for election. (These terms last two years.)

  • 36 seats out of 100 in the Senate are up for election this year. (These terms last six years.)
  • To control the Senate, Democrats need to win 16 of those 36 seats; Republicans need to win 21. Because the Vice President is a tie-breaker, the Democrats need only 50 seats for Senate control, while Republicans need 51. (That’s because in the case of a 50-50 tie, Vice President Joe Biden will cast a tie-breaker vote for the Democrats, hence giving them control.) Currently, out of the other 64 Senate seats not up for election, Democrats have 34*; Republicans have 30. (Because they are not up election, it means those parties keep those seats.) So, to control the Senate, the Democrats need to win at least 16 seats (34 + 16 = 50); the Republicans need to win at least 21 (30 + 21 = 51). Yes, I did get a 5 on the AP Government test. 

            *There are two independents in the Senate who caucus with the Democrats. Don’t worry about it.

  • Midterms are bad news for Democrats. The people who make-up the base of Democratic voters -- students, young adults, minorities -- are just not that into Midterm Elections. They don’t show up to vote in these. But who does show up? Old (white) people. And who do old people vote for? Republicans. This creates an inherent advantage for Republicans in the Midterms.

“So there are 471 legislators up for elections?,” you’re thinking. “How can a person like myself -- with a job and vibrant social life -- possibly follow it all?” Here’s the good news: Out of the 471 seats between the House and Senate that are up for election, you really only have to pay attention to 11 of them (outside, of course, the races in your own state or district). Why?

The Republicans are going to win the House of Representatives. There are few surer facts in this life than a Republican House for the next two years. Not only do Democrats deal with a Republican-leaning electorate this year, but in the House they face structural barriers that make winning all but impossible. In 2012, for example, Democrats running for the House earned 1.17 million more votes than Republicans. Yet, Republicans won the House. How did that happen? Due to gerrymandering and geography, Democratic voters are bunched together in cities, while Republican voters are spread out in many districts over the wide swaths of Red America. The result is that Democrats “waste” their votes winning a few House races by a lot, while Republicans win a lot of House races by a few. It’s a complicated situation that deserves a whole other post, but, trust me, TL;DR: Republicans are winning the House.

*Except for your district’s race. Which YOU WILL be voting in, says Nas. Register here.

Out of the 36 Senate races, we can pretty much tune out 25 of them. Polling and forecasting tell us that in 25 Senate races, the winner is a lock. These are states that are either deep red (Republican) or deep blue (Democratic), and, at least for this year, the other party has no chance of pulling off an upset, pending something strange happening to the heavily favored candidate. And by “something strange,” I mean a sex scandal or criminal investigation.

Alright, let’s go ahead and look at what’s left. Remember, each party comes into the Senate races holding seats that are not up for reelection this time around. And the Republicans are winning the House. Let’s start there:


2014 Midterm Scoreboard


Democrats: 34 (Need 50 for control)

Republicans: 30 (Need 51 for control)

36 seats up for grabs

House of Representatives

Republicans will win

Now, let’s award those 25 locks in the Senate to their respective parties so we can get a better idea of where things stand. Of those 25 locks -- 10 go to the Democrats while 15 go to the Republicans:

2014 Midterm Scoreboard 2.0


Republicans: 45 (Need 51 for control)

Democrats: 44 (Need 50 for control)

11 competitive seats up for grabs

House of Representatives

Republicans will win

So, that leaves 11 Senate elections where the result is in doubt. The magic 11. Whichever party can win at least 6 of these 11 states will control the Senate:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arkansas
  3. Colorado
  4. Georgia
  5. Iowa
  6. Kansas*
  7. Kentucky
  8. Louisiana
  9. Michigan
  10. New Hampshire
  11. North Carolina

We went from 471 to 11. Next, we’ll look at each of those 11.

*This one is a little weird -- it’s actually an Independent versus a Republican. (There’s no Democrat in the race.) We’ll explain next time.