Each federal election can have dramatic effects on the makeup of the U.S. Congress. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are contested, because the terms of representatives are two years. Our Founding Fathers called this house the lower house, and it was to represent the people, as all representatives are chosen directly by voters. 33 or 34 Senators are elected every two years, as Senators have six year terms.
Initially, state legislatures chose Senators. This was part of “The Great Compromise” among the founders of the Constitution. The small states were afraid the more populous states would dominate government, and so it was decided that one house would represent the states and one the people. For 124 years it worked this way. However, in 1913 Americans passed the 17th amendment which gave the election for Senators to the people, instead of to the states. This choice drastically changed the original intention of the founders, which was to have the House of Representatives represent the people and the Senate represent the states. Some say that this weakened our country because it weakened the states and gave rise to the growth of power in the federal government.
Midterm elections greatly favor the political party opposite the president’s party. Only twice in the history of American elections has the president’s party gained seats in Congress during a midterm election. The first such election was in 1934 when the Democrat Party gained seats under the Presidential leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt presided during the Great Depression. The second was in 2002, when the Republican Party gained seats under the leadership of President George W. Bush. Bush led under the beginning of the War on Terror.
Voter participation is historically lower during midterm elections than in Presidential elections. In 2012, 54% of registered Americans voted in our last Presidential election, whereas in 2010, 37% of eligible, registered Americans voted in our last midterm elections. The highpoint of American voter participation for both the Presidential and midterm elections began in 1832 with the election of Andrew Jackson and remained high until 1888. During this era voter participation rate averaged nearly 80% for Presidential elections and 65% for midterm elections.
1. What is the difference between a Presidential and a midterm election?
2. How did the 17th Amendment change the election of Senators?
3. In your opinion, why was voter turnout so much higher during the 1800s than it has been in the 1900s and the 2000s?