US midterm elections - a simple guide

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udith Nedel fills in her ballot, while her granddaughter, Alice, 4, checks out the voting booth during primary voting at Central Elementary School on May 3, 2022 in Kent, Ohio.Image source, Getty Images

Believe it or not, just two years after Joe Biden was voted into the White House, election season has arrived in the US again.

Contests have begun, to determine the candidates who will stand for office across the country on 8 November, during the midterm elections - so called because they fall halfway through a president's term - take place every four years.

Here is a simple guide to what's happening at the ballot box as these primary contests get underway before the autumn election.

Who is being elected?

Americans are represented in government by 535 lawmakers, known as members of Congress.

Congress is made up of two chambers - the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two work together to make laws.

The Senate is the 100-strong upper chamber. Each US state - regardless of size - sends two representatives. These senators are elected for six-year terms. Every two years a third of the Senate faces re-election.

The House of Representatives (often referred to as "the House") has 435 members. Each one represents a particular district in their state and serves a two year term. All seats are up for election.

What is at stake?

Currently, all members of Congress align with the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.

The Democrats control both chambers, but by very slim majorities.

So far, this has made it easier for President Biden, a Democrat, to get things done.

But if the Republican Party gains control of either or both chambers, it will have the power to thwart the president's plans.

Republicans need to win five extra seats to take back the majority in the House this November.

It is even closer in the Senate, where the seats are evenly split between both parties at present. At present, the Democrats have control because Vice President Kamala Harris has the casting vote in any tie.

The Republicans only need to win one extra seat to gain control in November.

Primary elections to determine who will contest the general election for each party will take place around the country between May and September.

A few races to watch

  • Mehmet Oz, a TV personality known as Dr Oz, hopes to become the Republican senator for Pennsylvania
  • Republican JD Vance, the author of the bestselling book, Hillbilly Elegy, will face off against a 2020 presidential candidate in Ohio
  • Former Nasa astronaut and US Navy captain Mark Kelly is seeking to extend his term in the Arizona senate seat he won from the Republicans in 2020

So who is going to win?

Historically, the party that holds the White House has tended to suffer losses in the midterms.

Signs point to this being a so-called "wave election" in which the Republicans make major seat gains.

President Biden also happens to be unpopular right now, with an approval rating stuck at less than 50% since last August.

That is likely to undermine support for Democratic candidates.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Capitol Building in Washington C is home to both the Senate and the House of Representatives

What does it all mean for President Biden?

Even now Mr Biden typically requires every Democrat lawmaker to back any given bill - and even that is often not enough.

Conservative Democrats - not Republicans - have blocked several major proposals, including "Build Back Better", the president's trillion-dollar package for social programmes and climate action.

A heavy defeat in the midterms will make it even harder for the president to introduce new laws.

Several Republicans have also expressed interest in taking a closer look at the the Biden administration's affairs.

That could mean opening investigations into everything from the bungled troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, to the foreign dealings of the president's scandal-plagued son Hunter Biden.

Since the 6 January riots at the US Capitol, trust between the two parties has declined sharply.

Public health measures, particularly mask rules, have further deepened these divisions.

Divided control of Washington is likely to mean more drama and hostility.

And what happens next?

Once the midterms election ends, all eyes will turn to the 2024 presidential election.

It could be a repeat of 2020 - both Presidents Biden and Trump say they plan to run again.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Could 2024 see a Biden-Trump re-run?

But various first-time contenders are expected to throw their hats in the ring too.

As well as the elections for Congress on 8 November, 36 out of 50 state governors are up for election. Of those 36, 20 are Republican.

When presidential campaigns get under way, governors play an outsized role supporting their party's candidates and overseeing their state's elections.

A divided Washington and a crop of new governors could have a major effect on presidential campaigning in 2023 and 2024.