Congressional Democrats Are Tied to Obama – Even More Than You Think

This entry was posted by Monday, 26 April, 2010
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With the power Congress holds over our industry’s future, it is no wonder that credit unions across the country are paying close attention to this fall’s midterm elections, in which all 435 U.S. House seats and 36 U.S. Senate seats will be up for grabs. Indeed, the political junkies among us are salivating over the prospects of a close, contested election.  Here in Washington, the latest parlor game has become guessing how many seats Democrats will lose this fall.

Yet with 24-hour cable television, talk radio, newspapers and online news all focusing on the latest political rhetoric, it can be hard to cut through the clutter and figure out what really matters.  Just what can the astute observer look for in his attempt to predict the future?

So as a service to all the armchair Roves and Axelrods out there, this is the first in an occasional series of modest attempts at analyzing the trends and factors driving the political landscape this year.

For the first installment, a little American political history.  It turns out one of the biggest predictors of midterm election results hinges on the fate of a public official not even on the ballot: the President.

The President’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections.  With just two exceptions in the House (1998 and 2002), and four in the Senate (1962, 1970, 1998, and 2002), this holds true for every midterm going back to Franklin Roosevelt’s second term in 1938.

Thus, the question is not whether Democrats lose seats this fall, but how many. And that’s where the President’s approval rating comes in.

When the President’s approval rating on election day is at or below 50%, the President’s party loses seats.  Only if the President’s approval is above 50% is there any hope for his party at all – and then only if it is way above 50%.

In fact, according to a recent analysis by Bill Schneider, distinguished senior fellow at the centrist think tank Third Way and senior political analyst at CNN, the average loss of seats in midterms going back to 1970 numbers 10 lost House seats and 1.5 lost Senate seats in years when the President’s approval rating is greater than 50%.  And when the President’s approval is below 50%? His party lost an average of 31 House seats and 4 Senate seats.

In fact the correlation is so strong, an approval rating in the 50s is not even enough to save the President’s party.  Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush all lost seats even though their approval ratings were each north of 58%.Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush had to attain approval ratings of 66% and 63% respectively to break the trend and pick up seats for their parties (a mere five House seats for Clinton in 1998 and eight House seats for Bush in 2002). (source)

So those Democrats in Congress worried about their majorities would do well to pay attention to President Obama’s approval rating.  And just how is the President doing these days?‘s average of major national polls taken in April shows the President at 47% approve, with 48% disapproving of his job performance.  Time will tell if the Democrats—and from their vantage point, the White House—can turn things around before November.


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