Midterm Democratic Losses: It’s Not (Quite) As Bad As It Seems

Ah, the consolations of philosophy.

If you look at the last sixty years, you see  that in bad economic times, the incumbent presidential party always loses seats in the midterm. It’s to be expected. No matter whether it’s fair, the incumbent party gets the blame.

Political scientist Douglas Hibbs predicted before the election that structural factors alone — especially the economy — would result in 45 lost seats by the Democrats. In fact the Dems lost about 60, which means they underperformed the baseline by quite a bit. Kevin Drum’s reproduction of Hibbs’ chart (click for Drum’s post):

So other factors besides pre-determined, mundanely predictable ones were at work. But still, 15 seats isn’t as profound as 60.

For the wonkish, here from Hibbs’ paper (PDF):

The number of House seats won by the president’s party at midterm elections is well explained by three pre-determined or exogenous variables: (1) the number of House seats won by the in-party at the previous on-year election, (2) the vote margin of the in-party’s candidate at the previous presidential election, and (3) the average growth rate of per capita real disposable personal income during the congressional term.

Adjusted for degrees of freedom, 92% of the variation in House Seats won by the in-party at midterm elections is explained statistically by the model.

The data available at this writing indicate the that Democrats will win 211 seats, a loss of 45 from the 2008 on-year result







3 responses to “Midterm Democratic Losses: It’s Not (Quite) As Bad As It Seems”

  1. Bill White Avatar
    Bill White

    So, isn’t the interesting number the 2002 election? The model says the out party (the dems) should keep the house, but the reps actually took it. I can’t tell, but it seems like the error was about the same as the 2010 error. There was a lot of allegation of fraud in the 2002 election, just after the really questionable 2000 election. I’m just sayin…

  2. Ted K Avatar

    Watching Alan Grayson lose in Florida was the one that really cut my heart. No kidding, that one really stung. After all the work Grayson did to help clean up the oligopolist banks. He strikes me as a good man.

    Were you aware he’s Jewish Steve??? I was reading up on him just after watching him give his concession speech. He certainly doesn’t go around waving the banner (had his name changed, and obviously seems more liberal). I’m not sure if he attends synagogue or not. I am a non-Jew who is a bit of a “Jew-phile” Steve, and I pride myself on being able to pic out Jews, but Grayson was a mild shock to me. He certainly is sharp and a “go-getter”, so he fits those two typically Jewish traits, but other stereotypes or “tipoffs”, I couldn’t see it at all.

  3. Chris T Avatar
    Chris T

    @Bill White
    2002 was a year after 9-11. The United States’s solidarity with the ruling party hadn’t worn off yet.