July 2022

By Blue Star Strategies' DC Team

It's hard to read an article anywhere that does not predict that U.S. Democrats will lose double-digit seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in November’s elections. Unfortunately, most articles refer only to President Biden's low approval ratings as the basis for predicting that the Democrats will lose their seats, and likely their majority, in the House. Without more, one may wonder, since President Biden is not on the ballot - why does his low approval rating matter?

Set out below is the basis for the relevance of President Biden's rating - while not a fool proof method of predicting mid-term outcomes, most political commentators are holding tightly to this analysis.

Currently, Democrats hold a slim majority--there are 220 Democrats, 210 Republicans, and 5 vacancies. Political analysts have identified 41 seats they believe Democrats could lose in the upcoming mid-term elections. The seats identified are closely tied to President Biden's performance in 2020 and his current approval rating.

The 41 seats include the following:

  • 11 seats that Democrats currently hold that President Trump won in 2020
  • 9 seats that Democrats currently hold that President Biden won by 5% or less
  • 10 seats that Democrats currently hold that President Biden won by 6-10%
  • 11 seats that Democrats currently hold that President Biden won by 10 -12%

Because President Biden's approval is 38%, analysts, in predicting Democrats will lose the House, simply calculate the difference between 50% and 38% and use that difference to predict Democrat’s losses. Put another way, since President Biden's approval rating is 12% below 50, analysts conclude that any Democrat who has not won his/her district by at least 12% will likely lose his/her seat in the midterms.

History - to the extent it is applicable to today's events in the U.S. - does demonstrate that the President's party does lose seats in the mid-term elections. The number of seats, during years when districts were not gerrymandered for specific candidates, varied greatly. In recent years, state legislatures have passed laws to gerrymander as many seats as possible to control election outcomes favoring candidates from one party over the other. As a result, the number of seats not gerrymandered are fewer than any other time in U.S. history, leaving few competitive seats.

Additionally, there are other factors that analysts exclude from this analysis. One factor is the 9 districts currently held by Republicans that President Biden won - in some cases decidedly. Evaluating mid-term House candidates is also omitted from these predictions. Most analysts avoid discussing the candidates who are running for election or re-election, so the reader has no way of knowing the candidates' record on issues that may be important to the voter. Finally, analysts also avoid factoring in "incumbency" - and incumbency matters to most voters - since voters, while disliking Congress generally, tend to like his/her U.S. Representative.

Interestingly, when reading articles about upcoming Senate races, analysts tend not to look at history or President Biden's approval ratings. Instead, when political commentators discuss the upcoming Senate, they tend to focus on the candidates, their views on public policy issues, their financial viability, their character, and their voting record whenever applicable. In fact, commentators now believe that Democrats while retain control of the Senate. Far too little is said about the rationale for looking at House and Senate races from a very different perspective, especially when the voters are the same. How could it be that voters will vote against a House candidate because of President Biden's favorability/unfavourability yet vote for candidates for Senate candidates based on their record, likeability, character, and views?