Will history repeat itself this year?

Will history repeat itself this year? – 1998 midterm elections

Ron Faucheux

As we approach each midterm election, there is always discussion about historical patterns. So as we make the final countdown to November 3, let’s take a look at the electoral record to determine if the past is, indeed, prologue when it comes to contests for control of Capitol Hill.

Since 1914, the first midterm election after the U.S. House of Representatives was expanded to 435 seats, we’ve had 21 midterm contests. Democrats have held the presidency during 11 of them and Republicans have held it during 10.

But for one election, the party holding the presidency lost House seats in midterm races. The one exception occurred in 1934, when Franklin Roosevelt’s popularity was so immense that his party gained nine seats.

U.S. House: During Republican presidencies, the GOP has lost House seats in all 10 midterm races. Their worst year was in 1922 when they lost 75 seats after Warren Harding’s inept handling of a railroad strike and his veto of a popular postwar veterans bonus. The average GOP loss per midterm election for the 1914-94 period has been a little over 29 House seats per election.

During Democratic presidencies, their party lost seats 10 out of 11 times. Their worst year was 1938 when they lost 71 seats – which came during FDR’s third term following a long, unbroken winning streak. Even after the big ’38 defeat, Democrats still held a healthy 262-169 advantage over Republicans. The average Democratic loss between 1914 and 1994 was about 39 seats per midterm election.

U.S. Senate: On the Senate side during this period, Republicans lost seats eight times, gained seats once and kept it even once. The one gain was a two-seat pick-up during Richard Nixon’s first term. The zero change was during Reagan’s first term. Their worst midterm year in the Senate was 1958, during Dwight Eisenhower’s second term, when they lost 13 seats. Their average loss was six seats.

Democrats lost Senate seats eight of 11 times. They picked up five Upper Chamber votes in the first midterm elections during the Wilson, Roosevelt and Kennedy tenures. On the other hand, their worst loss was in 1946 when Harry Truman presided over a 12-seat decline. Their average loss was about six seats.

Party Control: During the 1914-94 period, including both presidential and midterm election years, party control shifted seven times in the House (Democrats surrendering a majority four times, the Republicans three times) and nine times in the Senate (Democrats surrendering a majority five times, Republicans four times).

Three of the control shifts in the House occurred during midterm elections (’46, ’54, ’94) and four happened in the wake of presidential contests (’16, ’32, ’48, ’52).

Five of the control shifts in the Senate were during midterm elections (’18, ’46, ’54, ’86, ’94) and four occurred in presidential years (’32, ’48, ’52, ’80).

1998 Parallels: Are there any historic equivalents to the current political situation in which there is a second-term president whose party holds a minority of both the House and Senate?

Let’s take a look at midterm elections held during the second terms of presidents elected to two full terms: In the case of Wilson in 1918, his Democrats lost 19 House and six Senate seats; FDR’s Democrats took a plunge in 1938 when 71 House seats and six Senate seats fell off; Eisenhower in 1958 watched his party drop 47 House and 13 Senate votes; Reagan’s GOP shed five House and eight Senate seats in 1986.

With Wilson and Reagan, their parties held a minority of the House and a majority of the Senate going into their second midterms; both lost their Senate majorities as a result of the elections. FDR had majorities in both chambers going into – and coming out of – his second midterm.

Of these second-termers, only Eisenhower – like Clinton today – went into the midterm race with his party holding a minority of both the House and Senate.

So if the historic patterns hold, Democrats could be in for a heavy hit come November 3.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

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