Yes, I know, that headline sounds wrong. But I worded it carefully and I assure you it is far more correct than many other headlines we are seeing, about the “historic loss in Congress” with the 2014 election.
The truth is, the party in the White House tends to lose house seats with every midterm election. Over the last half century there have been only two exceptions to that. Also, the second midterm for an 8 year presidency tends to do a bit worse than the first.
In addition to that for the most part, a president’s popularity rating drops from the first day of the first term through the subsequent years in office. George Bush’s popularity rating probably had the largest and steepest drop. Bill Clinton managed to increase is popularity rating (and his 1998 midterm was one of the only exceptions to the rule of loss as well).
The following graph shows the relationship between presidential approval rating and House loss (data from Gallup). There are two things to note.
First, despite the misleading headlines, President Obama’s approval rating was not abysmal compared to the spread across presidents. On the low side, yes, but not the lowest by any stretch of the imagination. Second, and even more interesting, the number of House seats lost during this midterm is far less than predicted using all the other races as a guide.
By political standards, that’s actually a victory.
What about the Senate? See this.