In any presidential election year, the race for the White House always receives the most media attention. That’s unsurprising. The presidential election has the most impact on the entire nation, while the elections of representatives primarily affect a single state or a particular area within that state. A new president can dictate the shape of the next four to eight years, influencing policy throughout the country. More importantly, the president commands the military. The 2016 presidential campaign is already well underway, with polls regularly tracking candidates (some of which have yet to officially declare their intention to run) and politicians chiming in about issues and publicly feuding with each other. As eight years of Congressional gridlock under the Obama administration has shown the U.S., sometimes the outcome of Congressional elections is more likely to determine how policy will be shaped than the outcome of a presidential election.
Members of the House of Representatives face reelection every two years. In 2016, all 435 Congressional districts will have seats available. The majority of House incumbents, however, easily win reelection in any given election year. In every election since 1964, more than 80 percent of House incumbents have successfully been re-elected. Eight Republican House members will be retiring in 2016 (five of which will make a run for the U.S. Senate in their respective states). Ten Democrats will be retiring (seven of which will run for the U.S. Senate). According to Fairvote, 245 Republicans and 190 Democrats are projected to win House seats in 2016. That would mean that, despite the outcome of the presidential election, Republicans would maintain control of the House.
Senate elections are inevitably more unpredictable than House elections. Senators face reelection every six years, so the percentage of Republicans and Democrats seeking office varies every election year. According to the Washington Post, Democrats will be defending 10 seats in 2016. Republicans will be defending 24 seats. Republicans gained control of the Senate of 2014, but that power could shift back to the Democrats in 2016. It all comes down to toss-up states like Illinois and Wisconsin, which have historically favored Senators from both parties. In terms of Senators not up for reelection, 34 are Democrats and 30 are Republicans. Two are independents.
There are varying predictions as to the expected outcomes of the 2016 Congressional elections, and it obviously will not be determined until election day. A safe bet is that Republicans will maintain control of the House, while Democrats could feasibly retake control of the Senate. That split might not have significant implications on the presidency — if Congress is split, the legislative process will be hindered no matter what. There’s always the chance, of course, that Republicans could take control of both Congress and the White House. As media coverage of the 2016 presidential race continues, it’s important to remember that the House and Senate elections will be nearly as significant for at least the following two years.
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