Submitted by Taps Coogan on the 27th of August 2018 to The Sounding Line.
With the Republican Party’s first midterm election under President Donald Trump looming in November, it is worth reflecting briefly on the history of presidents’ first midterm elections.
While first term presidents’ parties frequently maintain stable or increase representation in the Senate during their first midterm election, it has been exceedingly rare for presidents to do so in the House of Representatives.
While the first few Presidents in American history all gained seats in the House of Representatives during their first midterm election (Washington through Monroe), in the 200 years since the House General Election of 1818, it has only happened three times.
One of those times, the 1902 general election during Teddy Roosevelt’s first term, featured many newly created House Seats. While Roosevelt’s party (the Republicans) gained some of those new seats, they gained fewer than the Democrats, and as a result, Republican control of the House decreased and the election was considered a defeat for the President’s party.
The only two times in the last 200 years when president’s party actually increased their control in the House during in their first midterm election was under FDR and George W. Bush. FDR’s victory came during the depths of the Great Depression as he rolled out the massively popular New Deal policies and George W. Bush’s win came shortly after the attacks of September 11th.
32 of the 34 presidents since 1818 have lost representation in the House during their first midterm election. Those losses were suffered by Democrats, Republicans, Democrat-Republicans, and Wigs during times of peace and war, prosperity and depression, regardless of whether or nor the party held a majority in the House.
None of this means that the president’s party necessarily loses its majority in the House (if it has one), and just because something is rare doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Nonetheless, it does mean that there is a strong historical precedent for the president’s party to lose seats in the House during their first term.
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|House Election||President||President’s Party||Change in President’s Party’s Seats in House During First Midterm Election|
|1934||Franklin D. Roosevelt||Democratic||+9|
|1946||Harry S. Truman||Democratic||-54|
|1954||Dwight D. Eisenhower||Republican||-18|
|1962||John F. Kennedy||Democratic||-4|
|1966||Lyndon B. Johnson||Democratic||-47|
|1990||George H. W. Bush||Republican||-8|
|2002||George W. Bush||Republican||+8|