Midterm elections 2018: What to watch for

On Tuesday America votes. In political jargon, we call it "the midterms." In the Constitution it's just called "Elections" –  important ones, mentioned right up front in Article I, where "We the People" select who goes to Congress. 

Compared to a Presidential race, these Tuesdays don't always get the same turnout. Last time only about one-third of people showed up. But this year, 2018, looks very different. Turnout is expected to be high. Millions already have cast their ballots early; millions more tell us they will.

And Tuesday night, at the CBS News decision desk, we'll watch those millions of votes report in from across the country – 35 Senate races, and 435 House seats.

Majority control of Congress is indeed up for grabs. Democrats think they have a shot to win the House. Polls suggest they might.

Republicans think they can hold onto their majority in the Senate; the polls agree.

But of course, none of that, as we pollsters always stress, is certain until Tuesday.

This you CAN be sure of: the most interesting decision to watch could be how people think, not just how they vote. Right now more Americans say the economy is good heading into a midterm than have said so in 20 years. That ought to help the party in power, the Republicans. But in a surprising split, far fewer people in battleground states are happy about the direction of the country. 

And that, the Democrats are hoping, helps them.

These elections are for state and local offices, but people, by a rate of two to one, say they're thinking about national politics. And that may have a lot to do with the president. No, he's is not on the ballot, but he is on voters' minds. Three-quarters of voters in key states have told us so.

And that would mark historic levels for a president's influence in a midterm, with just as many trying to support him as oppose him.

Then, there's the voters' mood – part of the reason, maybe, we might see big turnout, with voters on both sides telling us they'll feel disappointed, even angry, if the other side wins.

And maybe that leads to the biggest thing to watch of all: Whether the next Congress (whoever wins it) can help to change those feelings once all the votes are counted. 

By CBS News' director of elections and surveys Anthony Salvanto.

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Story produced by Amy Wall.

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    Anthony Salvanto, Ph.D is CBS News Director of Elections and Surveys. He oversees all polling across the nation, states and congressional races, and heads the CBS News Decision Desk that estimates outcomes on Election Nights. He is the author of "Where Did You Get This Number: A Pollster's Guide to Making Sense of the World," from Simon & Schuster, and appears regularly across all CBS News platforms. His scholarly research and writings cover topics on polling methodology, voting behavior, and sampling techniques.