2018 Midterm Elections President Trump’s losses less than in past elections in recent history
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Note: This is a non-partisan objective historical account of the midterm election results.
There were no big winners on midterm election night on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and garnered additional governors but loss the Senate where Republicans added seats. The press is trying to portray that the Democrats won big but their wins are not comparable to other midterm elections in a president’s first term in the last 40 years. For the second election cycle pollsters over predicted Democratic victories and there was hardly a blue wave for the Democrats. The Democrats added 28 seats in the House to reach 223 seats, five above the magic 218 majority, where 29 in the average seat loss and 49 needed for a wave. The Democrats added also added seven governors. Meanwhile, the Republicans added three seats in the Senate and maintained their majority with 52 seats, the average loss for the party in power is two seats. Republicans picked up Senate seats in Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri. Democrats gained six state legislatures and flipped 350 state legislature seats after losing 900 seats during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, while Republicans gained one state legislature with Alaska the least since 2010.
This year a record number of Americans went out to vote especially for a midterm cycle, with 113 million Americans voting or 49 percent of the population. More Democrats went to the polls 38 percent of registered Democrats, 32 percent of Republicans and percent of Independent voters. Thirty seats in the House flipped, 29 went Democrat and one went Republican. Election night was historic for women and minorities. There were 98 women elected to the House, 84 Democrats and 14 Republicans and 12 from the Senate, 10 Democrats and two Republicans. Forty-two of the women elected to Congress are minorities including, Democrats Rashida Tlaib, projected to win in Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, projected to win in Minnesota as the first Muslim women in Congress and Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas and Debra Haaland of New Mexico the first Native American women elected to Congress. Omar, who is a Somali-American member will also be the first women to wear a hijab in Congress. Democrat Jared Polis became the first gay man to win a governorship after being elected as Colorado’s governor. This year’s results are the second most diverse after 2016.
With a low employment rate and a booming economy, the election predominantly was primarily a referendum of President Donald Trump, his divisive rhetoric, nationalistic and anti-immigrant domestic policies and isolationist foreign policy filled with trade wars. Since entering the office, Trump battled with low approval ratings, controversy after controversy and an independent counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, where numerous past members of his campaign and White House staff have already been prosecuted. Republicans in the House were vulnerable over their votes in support of the failed American Health Care Act of 2017, the bill meant to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), that took away protections for pre-existing health conditions. Republicans in the Senate found strength in rallying around recent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and defending accusations of sexual in propriety in his youth pushing through his confirmation. In the end, President Trump was the big winner because he staved off the party losses his predecessors usually experienced.
On Tuesday, November 2, 2010, during President Barack Obama’s first term, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives and control. Democrats maintained control of the Senate but Republicans picked up five seats and added six governorships to their tally. In addition, Republicans added 680 seats in state legislative elections. Republicans had control of 26 state legislatures to the Democrats 15 and had 29 governorships out of 50. The Democrat’s losses at the Congressional and state level were the “largest losses for a party since the Great Depression.” The seat change in the House was the biggest since the 1948 election cycle when the Republicans lost control and the largest midterm change since 1938 when President Franklin Roosevelt was president. The 2010 midterm election marked the third time Republicans made gains in the first midterm election of a president’s terms, the others were 1994 and 2002. Incumbents were the great losers in the 2010 midterm election especially Democrats were 50 lost their seats versus only two Republicans.
The economy and Great Recession was the major issue of the 2010 Midterm election. Unemployment remained high under President Obama, and his and the Democratic Congress’ economic bailout was unpopular especially its passage without any Republican support. Equally controversial was Obama’s health care law, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, which also passed without a single Republican vote. The 2010 election cycle saw the rise of the Tea Party, conservatives and libertarians whose main issue was the economy. Immigration reform also became a contested issue starting the predominant trend of Republican opposition to illegal immigration and crossing the border. Republicans in Arizona passed the controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act allowing law enforcement to investigate immigration status. Although Obama advocated immigration reform that would give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, he could never achieve it with Republican Congressional control. Republicans nationally campaigned against Obama’s change agenda making the election a referendum on the president, while Obama campaigned defending it. Still, Obama remained personally popular and he was reelected to a second term as president in 2012.
On Tuesday, November 5, 2002, during President George W. Bush’s first term Republicans were able to keep control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the midterm election. The Republicans added eight seats in the House and two seats in the Senate. Bush’s gains were the exception to the rule. The elections were held just one year after the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks, and in the aftermath, Bush saw the highest presidential approval rating in history with 91 percent and he maintained high approval ratings in the months afterward for unifying and decisive response to the terror attacks.
The country was in the midst of a recession and a war in Afghanistan. This was only the third time in history that a president’s party made gains in a midterm election since the Civil War. The first two times were under Democrats in 1934 during the Great Depression in President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term and in 1998 under President Bill Clinton as he was in the middle of a pending impeachment over lying about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In 2002, was the first time a Republican president saw gains from his party. Bush would go on to be reelected in 2004 but would leave the White House in 2009 with the two unpopular wars raging in Afghanistan and Iraq, an economic collapse causing a great recession and the lowest approval rating since Harry Truman left the presidency in 1953.
On Tuesday, November 8, 1994, during President Bill Clinton’s first term the Republican took control of both houses of Congress amounting to the Republican Revolution. The Republicans gained 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. It was 40 years since the Republicans last controlled the House since they lost it in the 1954 midterm elections when Republican Dwight Eisenhower was president. Republican swept elections at the state level as well adding 12 governorships and 472 legislative seats controlling 20 more state legislatures.
This was the first time since 1972 Republicans controlled a majority of the governorships and the first time in 50 years, they controlled the majority of state legislatures. The Republicans campaigned under a unified banner with future Speaker of the House and Minority Whip Newt Gingrich as their leader promising a Contract with America. They argued Clinton was the same tax and spend liberal most Democrat presidents had been and he lied in 1992 about being a New Democrat. The election also marked the end of the Conservative coalition of Republicans and mostly Southern Conservative Democrats. Despite, the Republican revolution, Clinton held on to the White House in 1996 only to become the second president impeached by the Republican House but acquitted in the Senate in early 1999.
On Tuesday, November 6, 1990, during President George H. W. Bush’s first and only term, the Democrats maintained control of both Houses of Congress and built on their majority, however, Republicans loss less than usual in a president the first term. Republicans only loss nine seats in the House of Representatives while the Democrats picked up one Senate seat. At the time, President Bush had high approval ratings as the country prepared along with a United Nations to free Kuwait from Iraq in the Gulf War. Bush still had not gone back on his campaign promise to raise taxes during an upcoming recession, which would cost him reelection in 1992 making him the only one-term president in the last nearly 40 years.
On Tuesday, November 2, 1982, during President Ronald Reagan’s first term, the Democrats maintained their majority in the House of Representatives and added 27 seats, while the Republicans maintained control of the Senate with the Democrats gaining a seat. Reagan faced low approval ratings bottoming out at 35 percent in January 1983, as the country plunged into an economic recession over Reagan’s conservative policies. The economic recession began in late 1981 and lasted two years; the unemployment rate reached 10 percent the highest since 1931 when the Great Depression raged. As Michael Schaller notes in his book Reckoning with Reagan America and Its President in the 1980s, “11.5 million Americans had lost jobs and as many as 10 million others were forced into lower paying work.” (Schaller, 49) Reagan blamed his predecessor Jimmy Carter for the economic slump but the voters blamed Reagan. Still, this was the first time since 1928 that the Republicans held on to the majority in either House in a midterm election. The economy would turn around in 1983, and Reagan would go on to win reelection in 1984 in a landslide victory.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.