In six months, American voters will go to the polls for the so-called midterm elections. The entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be elected. This said, the most important politician influencing the outcome of those elections is not on the ballot: Joe Biden.
Midterm elections take place two years after the presidential election and it is in the nature of the American checks and balances that the party of the incumbent president usually loses seats. In fact, the approval rating of the incumbent president is one of the best predictors for the outcome of the midterm elections. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all lost their majority in the House of Representative during their first midterm elections. It is brutal and everything looks like the same will happen this fall to Joe Biden and the razor-thin Democratic majority in Congress. At the time of writing, the realclearpolitics polling average has 43% of the voters approve of the job Joe Biden is doing, and 53% disapproving.
Looking back, there are two interesting exceptions: In 1998, during Bill Clinton’s second term, Democrats won seats. At the time, Republicans in the House had impeached Bill Clinton, he was later acquitted in the Senate. The move was seen as overly partisan by voters and Clinton’s approval rating reached new highs. A roaring economy was additional wind in Clinton’s back (and in fact his political life insurance). In 2002, George W. Bush’s Republicans won seats as well. Bush had entered the White House after a bitterly fought legal battle. It was only the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and his reaction to it, that made his approval ratings soar. That was the time I was studying at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University in Washington D.C., and I remember the midterm election very well. A commentator said, and I agree, that Bush effectively got elected president at the occasion of the midterm elections.
Going back to Biden and the Democrats, I think it would almost take a miracle to turn things around. Recently, a resolution from the Supreme Court leaked, indicating that it might overturn the landmark decision of Roe versus Wade, which guaranteed a woman’s right to chose an abortion at a national level. Liberals across the country are highly alarmed, and it might indeed affect some key Senate and House races. Whether it’s enough for Democrats to defend their majorities remains to be seen, however.