Americans are set to vote in one of the most polarised midterm congressional elections in decades.
On 6 November, Democrats hope to change Republican momentum in Washington following a bitter defeat when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the narrowest majority in US history.
The confirmation added to the current Republican advantage over all three branches of government, controlling the White House, both houses of Congress and now a 5-4 majority on the country’s highest court.
In the US, Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president, who almost always nominates a judge whose record is in line with the political party's stance.
The Democrats' main battle-cry following the Supreme Court defeat was for Americans to get out and vote on 6 November.
What's at stake?
US midterm elections take place at the halfway point during each presidential term. A major factor in any midterm election is weak turnout due to a lack of enthusiasm. Following President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Americans have found themselves more engaged than ever with the polarised political climate.
Only 36.4% of Americans showed up to the polls during the 2014 midterms, which cost then-President Barack Obama a majority in Congress. Analysts said there was not a "dominant national theme” to rally voters on either side.
Now in 2018, there is no shortage of controversial topics on the table to rally both Democratic and Republican support. More than 800,000 registered to vote on national voter registration day in September this year, compared to only 154,500 in 2014.
For Democrats, the midterms mark the first concrete opportunity to swing power in Washington since the 2016 presidential election. The Democrats also have to defend 10 Senate seats in states Trump won.
Elections will also be held for the governorships of 36 US states and three US territories, as well as for the Mayor of the District of Columbia.
What are the polls saying?
The US Senate is composed of 100 lawmakers, two from each of the 50 US states. Currently, there are 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two Independents who side with the Democrats. If the Senate is deadlocked on an issue, Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican, serves as the tie-breaking vote.
According to the latest forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Republicans have an 81% chance to keep control of the Senate.
The forecast also predicts Democrats have a 77.5% chance to take control of the House of Representatives, which is currently composed of 235 Republicans, 193 Democrats and seven vacant positions. The House is composed of Representatives from various congressional districts that are allocated to each of the 50 states on a basis of population, with each district entitled to one representative.
Some of the high-profile candidates running for re-election include Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is facing Democrat Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke hopes to become the first Democratic Senator from Texas in 25 years. Real Clear Politics polling average currently has Cruz leading O'Rourke by +6.6 points.
On the Democratic side, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York’s Kristen Gillibrand are both competing to hold their Senate seats. Both women are comfortably ahead according to polls and have been speculated as possible Presidential candidates in 2020.
Some other tight races are forming in states such as Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina and California.
What are the issues?
When Trump first announced he was running for president, he promised the cornerstone of his campaign would be stopping illegal immigration pouring in through Mexico.
This policy has led to increased power for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), resulting in tougher border security, but also led to the separation of families trying to enter the US through the southern border.
The Trump administration has also proposed rule changes for those attempting to obtain green cards, welfare and food stamps, among other government benefits. Many Democrats have taken this opportunity to campaign in defence of individuals affected by these changes, rallying liberals around free moving immigration reform.
With the unemployment rate falling to 3.7% last month, its lowest in nearly 50 years, the Republicans are heavily campaigning on the positive trends in the US economy. However, many economists still fear that much of the economic boom seen from tax cuts and deregulation have not affected middle-income families as much as corporate America.
Still, according to a Pew Research study, Republicans hold a nine-point advantage over Democrats when it comes to handling the economy.
Healthcare continues to be one of the most controversial issues at the ballot box in American politics. If Republicans continue to hold their majority in Congress, it could be the official end of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
Although the Republicans have yet to find a way to repeal and replace the healthcare law, without a majority Democratic Congress the Act is likely to not make it to 2020 and beyond. Polling, however, does suggest that the American public trusts Democrats more on healthcare, who seek to unify the country around mandating universal healthcare for all.
What would be the impact of the different outcomes?
Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats in order to win control of the House. If they are successful, Democrats could start the proceedings for articles of impeachment for Trump. Some Democrats have also warned that they would move towards impeaching newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh if they were to gain control.
This threat has also rallied Republicans. Trump has joked about both possibilities while campaigning in Iowa this week. "The Democrats are even talking about doing really bad things now to Justice Kavanaugh," Trump said.
"Last week, they were saying, 'We'll impeach.' ... I have to go first, right? Don't I? — even though we've done nothing wrong other than create one of the greatest economies in the history of the world."
If Republicans do hold power, the next opportunity for Democrats to move the needle in Washington will be the 2020 presidential election. Currently, no serious Democratic contender has announced their intention to challenge Trump, who will seek another term in office.
The US has not had a one-term president since incumbent George H.W Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.