2018 elections will be nationwide referendum on President Trump

Getty Images

The midterm elections this fall will be a nationwide referendum on the presidency of Donald Trump. In the House, the Democrats have history on their side. In the Senate, the Republicans have a map on their side.

With the exception of two midterm elections since World War II, every president with an approval rating below 50 percent has lost a double-digit number of seats in the House. The average loss is 22 seats. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to retake the House. Gerrymandered districts will buck the historical trends, but past midterms are a good indication of what will likely happen this November. A president’s party gained seats in the House in only five midterm elections in American history.

{mosads}At the end of his first year in office, President Trump was the most unpopular president in modern presidential politics. His approval rating has hovered between 35 percent and 40 percent, and no president has had job approval ratings this low leading into the midterm elections. Presidents with those numbers have averaged a loss of 40 seats in the House. The latest polling average shows Trump’s popularity rising to 40 percent, his best number since the early weeks of his administration.

In 2010, President Obama had a 45 percent approval rating, and Democrats lost 63 seats. In 1994, President Clinton had a 46 percent approval rating, and Democrats lost 54 seats. These “wave elections” were devastating to the incumbent president’s party. The two exceptions in which a president’s party picked up seats in midterm elections occurred in 1998, when President Clinton enjoyed a 66 percent approval rating, and in 2002, when President Bush had a 63 percent approval rating.

Former Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) once said, “In politics, six months is a lifetime.” The election is still seven months away, and events can quickly change a president’s approval and the arithmetic. President Bush’s numbers soared to 90 percent after the attacks on 9/11. The day before, he had an approval rating of 51 percent.

In the Senate, Republicans will have a distinct advantage this November, regardless of the president’s popularity, because the Senate electoral map works in their favor. One-third of the Senate will stand for reelection, including 26 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Three Republicans have announced they will not run for reelection, leaving their seats open.

To take back the majority, Democrats will need all their incumbents to win and pick up two Republican seats. While most contests in the Senate will not be competitive, the states that will be in play heavily favor the Republicans. Nearly all the Republicans up for reelection are in safe seats. There are 10 Democratic senators running in red states where Trump won. In five of those states, Trump won by double digits.

In spite of a favorable map, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said cautiously, “This is going to be a challenging election year. We know the wind is going to be in our face.” There may be a wind blowing against Republicans in the Senate in November, but for Republicans in the House, it could be a hurricane.

Michael Andrews represented the 25th district of Texas in Congress for 12 years and was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He is now an attorney in the government practice group at King & Spalding.

Tags Americans Barack Obama Bill Clinton Congress Democrats Donald Trump Elections George Bush Mitch McConnell Politics Republicans White House

More White House News

See All

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video