Q&A – Winning Presidential candidates which lost Congressional seats

Q&A of the Day – Winning Presidential candidates which lost Congressional seats

Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods.

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

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Today’s entry: @brianmuddradio How does @JoeBiden get a record number of votes and doesn’t flip ONE House seat? And can possibly lose up to 13. That has to be a first.

Bottom Line: It does seem like an odd feat that the winning party of the Presidential popular vote would actually lose in Congress. Because it’s 2020 (and who knows, shenanigans?) we’re now a week away from Election Day and we have two Senate seats which won’t be decided until January 5th in Georgia and 20 outstanding races in the House of Representatives. All we know at this point is that yes, Republicans will have gained Congressional seats when all votes are certified. As of now Republicans have lost one net seat in the Senate but gained five seats in the House. The outstanding 20 races present additional net pickup opportunities for Republicans. Right now, the upside looks like 10 pickups with the current five gains being the floor. But you might be surprised to know that’s it’s not all that odd to have the winning President’s party actually lose ground in Congress. In fact, over the past 100 years it’s happened six times prior to this election:

  • 1956 in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s reelection
  • 1988 in George H.W. Bush’s win
  • 1992 in Bill Clinton’s win
  • 1996 in Bill Clinton’s reelection
  • 2000 in George W. Bush’s win
  • 2016 in Donald Trump’s win

As you can tell it’s happened in four cycles won by Republicans and two won by Democrats previously. In fact, if we only look at statewide contests, there have been nine Presidential cycles in the past 100 years in which the President’s party has lost Senate seats. This balance represents pragmatism by Americans overtime and the wisdom by our founders to build checks and balances into the system. To many partisans it may seem odd to vote for one party for President and another down ballot, but it was common this cycle. In fact, in a story I presented on October 27th, What Generation is the most Partisan, I highlighted the fact 18% of voters intended to vote split ballots this year – with younger voters being the most likely to split ballots. The examples of this happening are all over the country but most notable in Maine where literally 18% of voters who voted for Biden voted for Susan Collins for Senate. My research wasn’t in vain. As for the record number of voter's thing. Try not getting caught up in that too much. Overtime the numbers always go up because of population growth. Consider this.

With over 70 million votes, President Trump will have lost the popular vote with more votes than any Presidential candidate not named Joe Biden has ever received. The previous record was 69 million by Barack Obama in 2008. Back to the point of your question. While most Americans do prefer one political party in all races, there are nearly a fifth of votes who aren’t so ideological in their preferences. These individuals are actually more inclined to vote split ballots in Presidential cycles than midterm elections. The phenomenon of a president’s party typically losing seats in congress is based on this principal as well. That's why these voters often vote for the opposing party of the president in midterm elections. Incidentally this effect bodes well for Republicans for the two Senate runoffs January 5th in Georgia.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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