Why Democrats Will Win Midterms Despite a Booming Economy

The economy is soaring, and so is public optimism about the economy.  

You would think this should result in President Trump having high approval ratings, but that is not the case.  Trump’s approval rating based on the average of public opinion polls is stuck at around 41%. This is an historically low number.

You might also think that Americans would want Republicans to stay in control of Congress, but that is also not the case, based on the “generic congressional ballot.”

These current indicators, as well as historical research of past midterm elections, show that there is an excellent chance Democrats will take back control of Congress — or at least the House of Representatives — after the 2018 midterm elections.

The United States has low unemployment numbers, a soaring stock market and an expanding economy, but Trump’s approval rating is certainly not as high as we might expect it to be.  Why not?

The answer seems to be that an economy that’s doing very well is not enough for voters to credit the current president or the party in control of Congress.  Many voters may think the good economy is a carryover from the former president, or is due to factors that the president and Congress don’t control.

This means if Republicans are to win in November they have to do a better job of tying the good economy to Republican policies, and they may not be able to do that.  It’s already been shown that the tax legislation passed in December has not been overly helpful to Republicans and in fact may backfire on them in the midterms.

Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University, says his research shows that that a positive economy doesn’t  always have a direct effect on positive outcomes for the ruling party in midterm elections. He has looked at the results of every midterm election for the past 75 years.

Rather than the economy, he said the two best predictors for swinging seats in midterms are: 

  1. The “generic congressional ballot” which asks voters which party they’ll vote for in Congress, and
  2. The president’s approval rating.

“The approval rating itself is a much better predictor of what’s going to happen in midterm elections than any measure of economic trends,” he said. This is why Trump and the Republicans may be in trouble in 2018.

In situations where the economy is booming but the president’s approval rating is low (as we have right now)  Abramowitz says the approval rating tends to be far more important. This is very good news for Democrats.

“We saw something similar in 1966,” he said. “We had a midterm election, the Vietnam War was raging, and Lyndon Johnson’s approval rating had dropped to very low levels.  The economy was very strong, but the Democrats lost 47 House seats that year.”

Republican pollster David Winston says that another factor hurting his party is that  many people are not feeling financially secure on a personal level.

“People are still assessing — is this a temporary moment in the economy, or is this something longer term that they can have some confidence?” Winston said. “There’s a sense that things are improving, but it’s going to take some time for that to evolve into a comfort level.”

Winston said many Americans still feel like they’re living paycheck to paycheck, just a few hundred dollars away from a financial crisis.

Even though Trump is touting the high stock market values and high employment numbers he seems oblivious to the fact that most Americans are still hurting economically.  It is this fact which may carry the Democrats to victory in the November elections.