Republicans Out-Performed Sixth-Year Curse

The Republican losses in last week’s midterm elections continued an almost unbroken trend in U.S. politics: The party of a sitting President loses congressional seats in his sixth year in office.

Since the Civil War, the President’s party has lost an average of 47 seats in the House in his sixth year in office. Only President Bill Clinton confounded this trend, when Democrats picked up five seats in 1998, but failed to overturn a Republican House majority.

As of this writing, with 10 House races undecided, Republicans have lost a net of 28 seats. In other words, no matter what the final count is, it is certain to be lower than the average sixth-year loss.

In fact, President Bush’s sixth-year woes pale in comparison to other Presidents. Non-consecutive two-term Democratic President Grover Cleveland led his party to a staggering 125-seat loss in 1894—more than one third of the entire House at the time.

In 1902, the House expanded to its current membership of 435. The largest loss since then was a 72-seat loss by the Democrats in 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt’s sixth year. Roosevelt could not overcome the sixth-year curse in spite of a 54% approval rating. He was re-elected to a third term two years later.

In 1958, Republicans lost 50 seats, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was in his sixth year.

There is a silver lining here. In the 20th Century, it was the Republicans who lost seats in four of the seven “sixth-year” midterm elections. In three of those four cases, the GOP won the presidency two years later.

Sixth-Year House Losses
Year President Party Seats Lost
1874 U.S. Grant Republican 96
1894 Grover Cleveland Democrat 125
1906 Teddy Roosevelt Republican 28
1918 Woodrow Wilson Democrat 22
1938 Franklin Roosevelt Democrat 72
1950 Harry Truman Democrat 28
1958 Dwight Eisenhower Republican 48
1986 Ronald Reagan Republican 5
1998 Bill Clinton Democrat Gained 5
2006 George Bush Republican 28-plus

Source: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Represenatives


View All