Political History May Tell Us
The midterm elections, which fall halfway through a President’s term, have rarely been kind to the chief executive’s party. Even going back to the mid-1800s, the President’s party has rarely managed to net seats in the House of Representatives following the midterms. Over the course of the past century, the average midterm loss in the lower chamber has been 30 seats. Historically, the U.S. Senate midterm results have been more mixed, but the President’s party has lost more often than not in those contests as well.
Based on that history, and with Democrats currently clinging to a 221-209 advantage in the House (with five vacancies), one can understand why political prognosticators of all stripes are expecting the House to “flip” to the Republicans next year. (The well-respected Cook Political Report now expects the GOP to pick up between 22-35 seats on November 8th.) The picture in the evenly-divided Senate is much less certain. Many pundits currently rate the Senate outcome as “too close to call”. The Senate results will be determined in only a handful of states. (21 Republican seats will be on the ballot versus only 14 Democrat seats. It should also be noted that all the Democrat-held seats are in states President Biden carried in 2020.)
There are other valid reasons for Democrat consternation ahead of the November election. President Biden’s job approval ratings have sunk into the low 40s (or even lower). They first began to drop after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and have since failed to improve in any meaningful way. The Gallup polling operation has pointed out that midterms are particularly difficult if a President’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Gallup notes that the party occupying the White House has lost an average of 37 House seats when the President has had sub-50 percent numbers.
Are there events that will intervene between now and the election? Certainly. The Supreme Court will soon issue a final ruling on a Mississippi law that could strike down the landmark Roe v Wade abortion rights decision. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is fraught with uncertainty, but who knows how that will play out in the context of U.S. politics? A new Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will join the highest court in the coming weeks – much to the delight of progressives. In addition, concern about the Coronavirus pandemic has ebbed – at least for the time being. The “January 6th hearings” are underway, but it’s hard to predict what impact, if any, they may have on the election.
With that being said, economic concerns, as usual, are front and center in the minds of Americans. Inflation, which is particularly painful for lower- and middle-income people, has soared to levels not seen in 40 years. When Americans buy gas for their cars or food for their families, the impact of inflation becomes painfully obvious. Supply chain disruptions, highlighted by the baby formula shortage, are wreaking havoc in certain segments of the economy. Crime and immigration will surely weigh on voters’ minds as well.
The November election is still five months away. Obviously, significant, election-altering events could unfold in the meantime – developments that could upend the best-laid plans and the most astute political analysis. But with history showing that it’s very difficult for a President to improve his standing with the American people during the Spring to November timeframe, the political challenges facing President Biden’s party are formidable indeed.