Over the past several weeks, AR Intel has been recapping the first midterms and reelection of our last three Presidents, looking for trends that might give us an idea of what to expect in 2020. Although it’s a limited sampling, there are lessons to be learned from looking at the data.
In today’s “Past is Prologue,” we wrap up our series by looking at each president’s successes (or failures) from a “30,000 ft. view.” We’ll take a quick look at how each president performed and compare it with the others, with an eye toward 2020.
Top Line – Historical House & Senate Gains
|Candidate||Raised||Cash on Hand|
*Does not include results from NC-09
President Bill Clinton (1994 & 1996)
Bottom Line: Clinton had a firmly Democratic Congress when he was first elected. However, the 1994 midterm saw those majorities crumble. Despite minor gains in Clinton’s 1996 reelection bid, Democrats were not able to rebuild their majority in either the House or the Senate.
President George W. Bush (2002 & 2004)
Bottom Line: When Bush came into office, he faced a divided Congress. Bucking historical trends, Republicans were able to make incremental gains, taking back the Senate in 2002 and growing their House majority in 2002 and 2004.
President Barack Obama (2010 & 2012)
Bottom Line: Coming on the heels of a Republican presidency with low approval ratings, Obama and the Democrats were swept into office with an imposing majority in the House and Senate. Democrats lost the House in spectacular fashion in 2010 and were only able to make minor gains in 2012. In the Senate, they lost seats (but maintained control) in 2010 and marginally increased their majority in 2012.
President Donald Trump (2018 & 2020)
Given the performances of the previous three presidents (and their respective parties), what might we be able to deduce about Republicans’ and President Trump’s chances in 2020? The Congress President Trump had through his first two years appears to be fairly unique compared to his presidential contemporaries.
Following the election of President Trump, Republicans enjoyed a 241-seat majority in the House and a 51-seat majority in the Senate. Their House majority was not insignificant (though not quite as big as Clinton/Obama), and their Senate majority looked more like Bush’s after he was first elected. Those comparisons also could carry over to President Trump’s first midterm; Republicans lost a significant amount of House seats (like Clinton/Obama), and like Bush, they picked up a couple seats in the Senate.
In 2020, it would be reasonable to believe that Republicans will keep the Senate. Outside forecasters have already noted that the 2020 senate map is favorable to the GOP, and history shows, at least for the last three presidents, that the commander-in-chief’s party usually ends up gaining seats during their reelection.
Although the president’s party has gained seats in the House during their reelection, the data suggests a more modest forecast for 2020. Neither Clinton, Bush, nor Obama were able to break double-digit gains in their reelection campaigns. And while there are 31 Democrats who currently sit in districts carried by President Trump in 2016, Republicans will have to defend at least 22 seats that were decided by 5 points or less in 2018. Republicans may be able to pick up seats in 2020, but if past is prologue, they have a steep hill to climb to regain the majority.