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Where Does It Fit in History?

Whew! It’s finally over.

We’ve survived yet another election cycle with all the now-all-too-familiar and ubiquitous yard signs, robo calls, radio and TV ads, pollaganda, and even the post-election gloating, bloating, and spinning. But this post is not about the election, at least not this election per se. Rather, it’s about other elections and how this one compares historically.

Perhaps the biggest news from the election was the Republicans’ loss of control of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Democrats. Being attuned to most things historical, I naturally wondered about the significance of that turnover. Where does it fit into all previous shifts in power in the House? Here’s what my subsequent research revealed.

Since 1914, during 21 midterm elections, the party that held the White House typically lost seats in the House and the Senate. That has been the norm, and it’s happened to both parties. It’s what’s become expected. So when it does happen, it should result in no surprise by observers. Those losses in the House ranged from as little as 4 in 1962 (when John Kennedy was president) to as much as 77 in 1922 (when the corruption-plagued Warren

Harding administration was in the White House). Losses in the Senate ranged from a low of 1 in 1990 (when George H.W. Bush was president) to a high of 12 in 1958 (when Dwight Eisenhower was president).

Only twice in all those years did the party controlling the White House gain seats in the House. In 1934 (when Franklin Roosevelt was president), the Democrats gained 9 seats in the House. In 2002 (with George W. Bush in the White House), the Republicans gained 8 seats in the House. In both of those instances, the party int he White House also added seats in the Senate. In 1934, the Democrats picked up 9, and in 2002, the Republicans picked up 1.

During the same period (1914-2014), the party occupying the White House twice added seats in the Senate despite losing them int he House. In 1914, under Woodrow Wilson, the Democrats picked up 3 Senate seats but lost 61 in the House. In 1962, under JFK, they gained 4 in the Senate but lost 4 in the House. In 1970, with a pre-Watergate Richard Nixon as president, Republicans gained 2 Senate seats while losing 12 in the House.

So, looking at the most recent results in the light of the historical record, what do they mean? With Republican Trump in the White House, the Democrats retook the House, gaining __27___ seats (preliminary result, awaiting conclusive outcomes in a handful of races), while the Republicans added __3__ to their Senate majority. These results are not remarkable in light of history. It was about the average gain made by the opposing party in the last 21 midterm elections. (What would be unusual would be if they had lost seats or gained fewer.) And that is significant because it has happened only 3 times before.

And what does all this mean for the future?

If both parties continue as they have been behaving, it will mean more gridlock: frustration, anger, resistance, and driving of more good, qualified, principled people from public service. Nothing good will be achieved and much evil may result, even if unintended. (After all, to do nothing actually is doing something, and ideas and actions, or inaction, all have consequences.)

If the politicians will start thinking about what is best for the country and its future (what a novel idea!), instead of only themselves, their party, and their cronies and how they can gain (or retain power)–well, only time will tell. I’m not holding my breath.

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