Saturday, October 12, 2013

2014 House Races: Historical Precedent

With the government shutdown happening and led by Congressional Republicans, it has become fashionable to say that the House of Representatives will flip power to the Democratic party in the 2014 Congressional elections.  I do not share the same optimism that many people, much smarter that me, have for 2014.

So, I'll explain why.

Presidents do not fare well in mid-term or non-Presidential elections.  As we look historically, for two-term Presidents, they typically have a giant slide in one non-Presidential election and modest gains in the other.  But these modest gains are extremely modest.  A President has never had his party gain 17 seats in a non-Presidential election.  17 sounds arbitrary, but that's the number that is needed for the Democratic party to win the 2014 House.  Presidents do not generally gain any seats in the non-Presidential elections.  Here are the only times a President has gained seats in a non-Presidential election.

1934: +9
1998: +4
2002: +8

Generally, the Presidential party loses a modest amount of seats every non-Presidential election.  So, why did these three happen?

1934: Well, after the Stock Market Crash, there was widespread support for a Democratic president, in Franklin Roosevelt.  FDR pushed through fifteen legislative proposals in his first 100 days of office, which formed the basis of the New Deal.  He also created immediate relief from the Great Depression, creating new public agencies to employ civilians, and regulated the banking industry.  It's not surprising that FDR received plenty of support in 1934 for his legislative agenda.  It's important to note that he NEVER picked up seats again in non-Presidential elections.

1998: This was soon after the allegations of Bill Clinton sleeping with Monica Lewinsky.  A majority of the advertisements were focused on questioning Clinton's morality.  Exit polls indicated that a majority of the voters were not in favor of impeaching President Clinton.  Clinton was under attack by Republican Congressional leaders but Clinton's popularity prevailed.

2002: This one should be obvious.  This was after the September 11 attacks and America found a resurgence with a rally around the flag moment with both George W. Bush and Republican Congressional leaders.  Immediately after the terrorist attacks, Bush's popularity was at an all-time high and this popularity sustained during the 2002 Congressional election.

It's important to remember that non-Presidential elections are still referendums on the presidents rather than Congress.  The only time that it seemed that it was Congress's unpopularity caused a shift was 1998.  But then again, they were trying to impeach a popular President for reasons that were unclear.  If the Democratic part takes control of the House in 2014, it would be the biggest gain by a Presidential party EVER.  It would be only the second time since 1822 to have the Presidential party not lose seats in the 6th year of a presidency.

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