PolitiFact Stresses History of Midterm Election Losses

With many political pundits stoking the fires of possible midterm losses for Democrats, PolitiFact took a historical look at midterm elections this week, noting that the political party of the president usually loses seats in midterm races.

Taking a comment on This Week by Washington Post foreign correspondent Mary Jordan that the president's party “always gets shellacked in midterms,” PolitiFact did some checking. Its findings led to a lengthy explanation for the history behind such events and a lesson for the press who may want to overhype any Democratic losses in November:

She's correct that the president's party generally loses ground in midterm elections. In midterms since 1862, the president's party has averaged losses of about 32 seats in the House and more than two seats in the Senate.

She's also right that the president's party beat the odds and gained in 1934 and 2002. In 1934 -- two years into Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, in the midst of the Great Depression -- Roosevelt's Democratic Party gained nine House seats and 10 Senate seats. And in 2002, roughly a year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush's Republican Party gained eight House seats and two Senate seats.

PolitiFact later noted:

The 1998 election under Clinton is especially notable, since elections six years after a president takes office tend to produce especially harsh results for the party occupying the White House. In fact, the 1998 election -- when voters were widely believed to be punishing a Republican overreach in their impeachment of Clinton -- represents the only time since the Civil War that a president has survived a sixth-year election with anything close to gains in both chambers.