Yes, I know, that headline sounds wrong. But I worded it carefully and I assure you it is far more correct than many other headlines we are seeing, about the “historic loss in Congress” with the 2014 election.

The truth is, the party in the White House tends to lose house seats with every midterm election. Over the last half century there have been only two exceptions to that. Also, the second midterm for an 8 year presidency tends to do a bit worse than the first.

In addition to that for the most part, a president’s popularity rating drops from the first day of the first term through the subsequent years in office. George Bush’s popularity rating probably had the largest and steepest drop. Bill Clinton managed to increase is popularity rating (and his 1998 midterm was one of the only exceptions to the rule of loss as well).

The following graph shows the relationship between presidential approval rating and House loss (data from Gallup). There are two things to note.

First, despite the misleading headlines, President Obama’s approval rating was not abysmal compared to the spread across presidents. On the low side, yes, but not the lowest by any stretch of the imagination. Second, and even more interesting, the number of House seats lost during this midterm is far less than predicted using all the other races as a guide.


By political standards, that’s actually a victory.

What about the Senate? See this.


  1. #1 Peter Smith
    November 9, 2014

    Translated, I got a bloody nose but at least I didn’t lose my teeth, so that was a victory. No, I don’t think so.

    There was a victor, and that was the democratic process. It reflected the will of the people, even if you did not like their will.

    You define the right outcome as your side winning. I define the right outcome as the one chosen in a fair electoral process.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 9, 2014

    Peter, no, actually, I didn’t say “my side won.” You missed the two points I made her by about five miles each.

  3. #3 Peter Smith
    November 9, 2014

    Greg, that’s probably because I’m wearing worn veldskoene in the dusty Kalahari!

  4. #4 ron
    November 9, 2014

    And what about the Senate and the governorships?

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    November 9, 2014

    Peter: OK, whatever.

    Ron, this post is just about the house. The Senate is a potentially different situation, I may post about that later. I haven’t personally taken much of a look at the governorships. State politics and national are not that closely linked. Probably not very interesting.

  6. […] I noted earlier that the Democratic losses in the House were less than expected given what usually happens during the midterms. It is harder to make such a statement with the Senate because of the lower numbers, with fewer than a tenth of the total number of elections at stake when compared to the house. But, there is a pattern that makes the loss of a few seats in the Senate not unexpected. As is the case with the House race, the null model — what is expected despite any other political factors — is that this particular year for Senate races would favor Republicans when a Democrat is in office. […]

  7. #7 Eric Ferguson
    November 9, 2014

    The losses in the house were pretty normal for a midterm, and the Senate was always going to require massive Republican failure to be saved. We got spoiled by Republicans failing just as we needed them to in 2010 and 2012, and I like our odds of retaking the Senate in 2016. The disappointment was in governor races. That said, losses by the president’s party in midterms isn’t necessarily inevitable, and they can be less or more. We could have done better. Candidates of the president’s party always run from him, both parties, and it fails every time. But they never learn. The hidden victory for Democrats is that we nearly ran the table in referenda. Even the midterm voters agree more with Democrats on issues, but they don’t know they agree with the Democrats. They actually trust Republicans more on issues where they oppose Republican positions. That’s nothing new, as there have always been a chunk of voters who don’t connect candidates and positions on issue. At least having a majority with us on issues is a place to start rebuilding.

  8. #8 Tim
    November 10, 2014

    That does not look like a ‘hockey stick’, Greg Laden. In fact, it *looks* like a pool cue. I’m not really sure what you’re hiding…

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    November 10, 2014

    Well, at least it is not declining!

  10. […] this is normal, and they didn’t do badly at all. This counter-narrative is exemplified by this post I found on Greg Laden’s blog, which is so simple it’s ridiculous. Laden plotted number of seats lost vs. presidential […]