While the president is not on the ballot during the midterms, these elections have long been seen as a referendum on their performance, reflected in how well the president’s party performs in congressional, state, and local elections.
In 42 out of the 45 midterm elections held since 1842, the president’s party has lost seats in Congress. The three exceptions were the midterms in 1934, 1998, and 2002.
In 1934, five years into the Great Depression, Democrats gained nine seats in both the House and the Senate, adding to the majority formed two years prior under Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition that marked a significant realignment in voter affiliation.
In 1998, enough voters attributed America’s strong economic growth to the policies of President Bill Clinton, awarding Democrats with five additional seats in the House of Representatives and leaving the Senate’s makeup unchanged, though Republicans remained the majority in both chambers.
In 2002, voters went to the polls barely a year after the September 11th attacks, with Republican President George Bush continuing to enjoy historically strong approval ratings for his response to that tragedy. As a result, Republicans gained eight seats in the House and two in the Senate.
But these elections were outliers, and 2022 looks on pace to continue the dominant historical trend. After a strong surge in polling for Democrats in the late summer, political momentum one week out from the 2022 midterms is becoming more and more favorable for Republicans.
According to FiveThirtyEight, President Biden’s approval rating stands at 42.5% against a 53.6% disapproval rating. More broadly, a full 70% of Americans believe that things in the country are on the wrong track.