2018 Mid-Terms in Perspective

As of Wednesday morning, the Democrats were projected to win 30 – 35 seats in the House of Representatives. This is in line with the overall historical averages for the opposition party in a mid-term election. This pick-up is a bit larger when compared to the first midterms for the most recent Republican Presidents. In 1982, with Reagan in office, the Democrats picked up 26 seats. In 1990, the first mid-term with George H.W. Bush in office, the Democrats picked up 7 seats. Finally, in 2002, George W. Bush’s Republicans actually increased their representation in the house, an exception to the general pattern.

The Democratic gain is smaller than what the Republicans achieved in the first midterms of recent Democratic Presidents. In the first midterms under President Obama, 2010, Republicans won over 60 seats. Back in 1994, Clinton’s first midterms, the Republicans won over 50 seats.

The Republicans have picked up 3 seats in the Senate, with Arizona and Montana too-close-to-call. It is unusual for the Presidential party to win seats in the midterms. You must go back to JFK in 1962 and FDR in 1934 to find previous occurrences. The Democrats faced the challenge of defending 10 Senate seats in States that had voted for Trump in 2018. This is not an unusual challenge. Back in 1982, after Reagan’s landslide Presidential victory of 1980, the Democrats had to defend 16 Senate seats in States won by Reagan. They won 14 of them. And those 2 losses were offset by flipping 2 Republican seats in States Reagan had won (New Jersey and New Mexico). In 1990, Democrats successfully defended all 12 Senate seats up for election in States George H.W. Bush had won in 1988. Democrats had less success in 2002 when they lost 2 out of 6 Senate seats in States that went for George W. Bush in 2000.

As a result, we end up with a split government, a common result. President Reagan, despite his popularity, faced a split Congress during both of his terms. As did George H.W. Bush in his one term. President Clinton’s Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress for only 2 of his 8 years in office. George W. Bush had a Republican House and Senate for 4 of his 8 years in office, but President Obama faced a split Congress for his last 6 years in office. After 2 years of Republican control, now President Trump will be working with a divided Congress.