Midterm elections are mostly pointless

Midterm Elections

I enjoy politics as a spectator sport, just like any other almost-34-year-old who periodically reads long-form articles in publications trying to recapture their mojo. I’ll look at results today for Michaud-LePage (Maine Governor), Elise Stefanik and her 30 year-old self getting after U.S. Congress, and Mia Love. But the thing is, broadly speaking … midterm elections are meaningless. 

Take a look at this chart from Wikipedia:

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 10.27.16 AM

That goes from 1910 to 2014 — a decent swath of U.S. history in which two World Wars happened, as well as Vietnam, the assassination of JFK, and a whole bunch of other stuff. (Oh, most of the U.S. infrastructure was built during the same time.)

In that span, only three times — just three — did a sitting President’s party gain House seats in a midterm:

3 times out of 26 possible midterm elections — 11.5 percent — has the President’s party gained any House seats.

Now let’s look at Senate. The picture is a bit different here, because (especially in the modern age) it takes more money to run/win Senate races.

Still, in the Senate, it’s only been 5 times in 26 midterms since 1910 that the sitting Presidential party has gained in the upper chamber. 2002 is on this list too — America! America! — but 1970, which makes the Senate R+1 list, was the last time a third-party candidate won a Senate election (that skews things when you’re talking +1).

Now look at turnout:

Election Turnout

The highest midterm turnout since 1948 was 1966, when close to 1/2 of all people voted. Meanwhile, the lowest Presidential year turnout was 1948 itself, when a little over 1/2 of all people voted.

The last three Presidential elections have averaged a bit over 60 percent of the U.S. eligible voting population, while the last three midterms have averaged about 41 percent — 20 percent lower.

Because of 24/7 cable news, there will always be breathless analysis of midterm races and what they mean. No doubt. But here’s what they really mean: about 1/5th less people actually show up to vote, and there’s almost no chance (1 in 10, maybe) that the sitting President’s party will do anything. And, lest ye forget, Presidential elections are about the Electoral College, which is a whole different ballgame anyway.

Analyze tonight all you want, but … it’s essentially fairly easy to predict and ultimately meaningless. If the Democrats get train-tracked tonight, does that mean Hilary or Candidate X has no shot? Not at all.

Ted Bauer


  1. we need people who want to WORK with the president and forego their party designation. Not shut things down or want to repeal something just because they didn’t think of it first or have a hand in it. they need to switch view back to what the PEOPLE need, not what is best for the biggest and richest in this country. take it from someone who is struggling. many would say that there is no disdain for the less endowed, but I can definitely tell you that there is.

    Our leaders need to look beyond party politics and see that the people want things done. we need things done. We do not need pointless lawsuits or repealing laws already in effect, unless they are truly treasonous.

    I look at myself as neither Republican nor Democrat. I am American, first and foremost. the parties be hanged. The big spenders be hanged. We the people need to back off the party thing and start looking at what is best for America. And remember our history. For those who do not learn from it will repeat it. and we do have a handful that want to repeat a very dark time in our history.

    • Thanks so much for this comment — and I completely agree. I’ve seen you “like” a few of these posts before, but I’m glad you took the time to write down some thoughts too. I think the “working relationship” in politics is pretty skewed, for sure. That seems to be what we’ve lost in the last 60, 70 years. It would be awesome if a centrist could just emerge who really wants to “unify” the parties on the key issues, but … that seems a little utopian sometimes.

Reply If You'd Like