According to a new poll by Gallup, Americans are looking forward to the 2022 midterm election. This enthusiasm might not be shared by those whose performance is coming up to a vote in November­—usually the party in power.
For the Democrats, who are controlling the House, the Senate and the presidency, the midterms are expected to be an uphill battle. While the Republicans’ conservative roll-back—in full swing on abortion rights, gun laws and environmental regulation—could energize voters on the left, Democrats are up against a historical precedent. The president’s party rarely does well with voters two years into a term.
This chart shows the net seat loss/gain by the president’s party in the U.S. midterm elections since … [+] 1962.
As seen in data by The American Presidency Project, Bill Clinton during his second term and George W. Bush during his first are the only two presidents of the modern era that could expand their party’s showing in both chambers in the midterms or at least not lose ground.
Four more, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, managed to slightly expand their influence in the Senate, while still losing—at times majorly—when it came to the House. In only one of these instances, a chamber was flipped in favor of the incumbent: In the 2002 midterms, George W. Bush turned the Senate red and held on to the House, which had already been Republican-controlled.
Bush’s success happened just one year after 9/11 and has not been replicated. Opposite the few positive midterm results for sitting presidents stands a long list of defeats.
Long list of defeats
Ronald Reagan lost the Senate—the only chamber he controlled during his presidency— in his second midterm election in 1986. Similarly, Barack Obama lost the House forever only two years into his eight-year term before suffering another resounding defeat in his second midterms when the Senate also turned in the Republicans’ favor. Bill Clinton even lost control of both chambers by the middle of his first term in 1994 and never gained them back in the six years that followed. After George W. Bush’s successful flip in his first midterms, debacle followed in his second as he lost both chambers in 2006 amid fall-out from the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.
As clear as the data on midterm losses for sitting presidents is, as unclear are the reasons behind it. Nobody really knows why the midterms are so hard for incumbents irrespective of the political climate, but depending on how a president is doing, he could be hit by either apathy or disappointment among his own supporters. Other than 9/11, national crises have not proven a good predictor for midterms either, which leave two more possible culprits: presidential approval and the state of the economy.
Neither of these is bound to look very favorable for Joe Biden in November. A second poll by Gallup shows that Americans are not only enthusiastic about the upcoming election but have also given it “quite a lot” of thought. 48% said so this June compared with only 31% in the summer of 2014. Whether their interest in the current political issues will work in Biden’s favor remains to be seen.

Charted by Statista

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