What's at stake in the midterms: A primer on 8 key issues for 2018

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 5, 2018

Campaign coverage often devolves into horse-race coverage -- who’s up and who’s down. But the way the voters cast their ballots on Nov. 6 will have potentially huge implications on public policy.

To help our readers better understand what’s at stake in the substantive policy choices this election season, we’ve put together a series of eight articles that explain the issues by visualizing data through charts and graphs.

Here’s a convenient link to the the topics we’ve looked at -- health care, immigration, guns, trade, taxes, Medicare, the national debt and marijuana legalization. Just click the topic below and you’ll find our article.

Health care

In state after state, Democrats are using health care like a cudgel against Republicans. For his part, President Donald Trump fires up the Republican base with the inaccurate allegation that Democrats "want to raid Medicare to pay for their socialist agenda." In the fray, hard numbers are easily lost.


Immigration is one of the biggest issues of the midterm elections, in the wake of Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration over the past two years. But the political rhetoric on immigration often ignores facts and important nuances about this complex issue.


In our politically polarized era, few issues are as polarized as gun policy. The most recent mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue is latest in a deadly list. Gun violence has driven passions on both sides, both among Americans who say too many guns make everyone unsafe and among critics who say that only gun ownership can assure an individual’s safety.

Trade and tariffs

Tariffs and counter-tariffs are hitting the agriculture and manufacturing industries ahead of the midterm elections. On Sept. 17, President Donald Trump announced a new round of tariffs on $200 billion more of Chinese goods. That’s only the latest salvo in an ongoing trade dispute with China and other U.S. trading partners.


The large tax bill passed by the Republican Congress and signed by President Donald Trump is not getting mentioned much on the midterm campaign trail, perhaps because the public seems to be lukewarm on whether it was a good idea. But taxes, like death, are among the few certainties in life.


Until recently, Republicans and Democrats debated the future of Medicare in fairly predictable ways. Republicans would offer plans to trim or cap benefits over time, and Democrats would skewer them for putting the squeeze on vulnerable Americans in their retirement years. This year, the big shift is on the Republican side. They’ve largely gone silent.

The deficit and the debt

New government numbers show the deficit is on the rise. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the preliminary federal budget deficit was $782 billion in fiscal year 2018 — $116 billion more than the shortfall in fiscal year 2017. What happened?

Marijuana legalization

About two in three Americans now favor marijuana legalization, a record-high measure of public support for a drug the federal government still puts in the same category as LSD and heroin. A majority of states now permit legal use in some form, and several states are poised to relax their laws this November.

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What's at stake in the midterms: A primer on 8 key issues for 2018