Questioning the map-changing Democratic wave

On June 3, 2008, in General, by Neil Stevens

Were the 2006 Congressional defeats the foreshocks of a map-shifting earthquake in the 2008 election, or were they just the same thing that normally happens in the sixth year of a Presidency?

I have examined the last seven sixth year midterm elections (Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy/Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush) and the losses the President’s party lost in both houses of the Congress, and I’m unconvinced that there was anything to learn long-term from the last election.

Here’s a simple chart that sums it all up:

Six Year Losses

As we can see, President Bush was well within historical norms for his sixth-year drubbing, coming up average for his Senate losses but doing better than the three straight sixth year Presidents who lost exactly 48 House seats. Clinton got off easy, true, but already lost big in 1994, and every other President suffered. Yes, including Reagan. He lost eight Senate seats. Maybe I should say instead that Judge Bork suffered most from that sixth year election.

But look at what happened to the incumbent party two years later:

  • Democrats held in 1940.
  • Republicans lost a nail-biter in 1960.
  • Democrats lost big in 1968, but only after their best candidate was shot.
  • Republicans were in it, against all odds, late in 1976.
  • Republicans held in 1988.
  • Democrats lost a race even closer than 1960s in 2000.

So are we starting far, far behind in 2008? I think not. John McCain has at least as much chance to win as President Roosevelt, Vice President Nixon, Vice President Bush, and Vice President Gore did. And them’s good odds.

Update: It also helps when John McCain is getting a head start on his rivals, who are off having their Cobra Civil War and all.


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