Republican strategists are already looking to the midterm congressional elections in 1982 to complete Rebublican control of Congress. With the number of Democrats in the House down from 276 to 242, another Republican gain of 25 seats in 1982 would bring Republican control of both House and Senate. What are the chances? The record of the last 80 years does not point to a net Republican gain in 1982.
The record clearly says that the election of a Democratic presidential candidate is followed by a shrinkage of the number of Democratic congressmen in the next midterm election and that the election of a Republican presidential candidate is followed by a shrinkage in the number of Republican congressmen in the next midterm election.
In this century Democrats have won 10 presidential elections, each followed by a net loss in the number of Democratic congressmen in the following midterm election -- with only one exception. That was in 1934 when they gained nine seats following their widespread gains in the depression year of 1932.
Democrats lost 59 seats in 1914 following the election of Wilson in 1912; 19 seats in 1918 following wilson's second election in 1916; 77 seats in the recession year of 1938; 45 seats in wartime 1942; 55 seats in the recovery and inflation year of 1946; 29 seats in 1950 following Truman's election in 1948; 47 seats in the Vietnam year of 1966 following the Johnson election of 1964; 4 seats following the close election of Kennedy in 1960; 16 seats in 1978 following Carter's election 1976.
The Republican record of nine presidential elections since 1900 shows that, without exception, Republicans lost midterm congressional seats. They lost 28 seats in 1906 following the election of Theodore Roosevelt in 1904; 57 seats in 1910 after the election of Taft in 1908; 75 seats in 1922 following the election of Harding in 1920; 10 seats in 1926 following the election of Coolidge in 1924; 49 seats in 1930 following the election of Hoover in 1928; 18 seats in 1954 folllowing the election of Eisenhower in 1952; 48 seats in 1958 following the Eisenhower election in 1956; 12 seats in 1970 following the election of Nixon in 1968; 48 seats in 1974 following the election of Nixon in 1972.
The question may now be raised as to whether business recessions and international developments may have had something to do with this strong tendency for midterm elections going against the party in power. The record shows that the greatest Republican losses were in 1910, 1922, 1930, 1958 and 1974. None of these were war-involvement years and only three -- 1922,1930, and 1958 -- were unemployment years.
The greatest Democratic congressional losses occurred in 1914, 1938, 1944, 1946, and 1966. Recession was involved in 1914, war conditions were present in 1942, inflation in 1946, and the Vietnam war in 1966.
As an exercise in political analysis it is thus very difficult to pinpoint specific reasons for the large and small swings in midterm Republican or Democratic election results. The only generalization that the record warrants is that about half of the nearly 20 congressional elections dealt with here show shifts of more than 25 seats and about as many less than that. But whether large or small, the 1982 shift is quite likely to bring a net Democratic gain.