Midterm Elections And First-Term Presidents

No matter how popular a first-term president is, modern midterm congressional elections have rarely spelled good news for his political party. Since 1946, the president's party has almost invariably suffered losses in one or both chambers of Congress. The one exception: the 2002 midterms, when Republicans benefited from George W. Bush's post-Sept. 11 surge in popularity.

Year President Seats Gained/Lost Shift In Power? On The Ground
1946 Harry Truman (D) Senate: -12 | House: -55 Yes. GOP takes
House and Senate

After 14 years of Democratic rule, malaise, coupled with postwar increases in housing and food costs, helps Republicans gain control of both chambers of Congress.
1954 Dwight Eisenhower (R) Senate: -1 | House: -18 Yes. Democrats take
House and Senate

McCarthyism and early signs of a recession dampen support for the GOP. Democrats take control of House and Senate.
1962 John Kennedy (D) Senate: +4 | House: -4 No Democrats, already in control of both chambers of Congress, do well at the polls in the aftermath of President Kennedy's successful handling of the October Cuban missile crisis.
1966 Lyndon Johnson (D) Senate: -3 | House: -47 No Civil unrest and the public's growing unease over the U.S. war effort in Vietnam translate into Democratic losses at the polls.
1970 Richard Nixon (R) Senate: -2 | House: -12 No The Vietnam War continues to plague the White House. This time, Republicans suffer electoral consequences in the House.
1974 Gerald Ford (R) Senate: -3 | House: -43 No Democrats make gains in the wake of the Watergate scandal that toppled Nixon and brought Ford into office.
1978 Jimmy Carter (D) Senate: -3 | House: -11 No The GOP makes gains with the rise of religious conservatives.
1982 Ronald Reagan (R) Senate: No change | House: -26 No President Reagan and House Republicans take a hit amid a deep recession and rising unemployment.
1990 George H.W. Bush (R) Senate: -1 | House: -8 No In this status quo election shortly after George H.W. Bush enters office, many incumbents who are re-elected nonetheless see sharp drops in their support at the polls.
1994 Bill Clinton (D) Senate: -8 | House: -52 Yes. GOP takes
House and Senate
As the Clinton administration struggles with fallout from a tax increase and health care overhaul fiasco, the GOP takes control of both the Senate and — for the first time in 40 years — the House.
2002 George W. Bush (R) Senate: +2 | House: +6 No In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Republicans make gains in both the House and Senate -- bucking the historical trend for midterm elections during a president's first term.

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