Why the Democrats will lose the House in 2010

December 30, 2009

The trend is not the Democrats’ friend. At least not in 2010. The party of the sitting president almost always suffers losses in midterm congressional elections. To that time-tested dynamic now add voter angst about high unemployment, big deficits and controversial legislation. Expect Senate majority leader Harry Reid to lose his effective 60-seat supermajority and Nancy Pelosi to hand the House back to the Republicans. Here’s why 2010 is looking like 1994 all over again:

1. Virginia and New Jersey. Big GOP wins in the gubernatorial races not only highlighted discontent with incumbents by recession-weary voters, they also greatly helped Republicans with candidate recruiting for 2010.

2. History. More big political change isn’t predicated on America rekindling its love for the Grand Old Party. A recent poll had the Republicans finishing a distant third in popularity behind a fictional Tea Party and the actual Democratic Party. Yet American politics has a regular ebb and flow. In 13 of the past 15 midterm elections going back to 1950, the party in control of the White House has lost an average of 22 seats in the House. In 10 of the past 15 midterms the party running the Senate has lost an average of three seats.

3. Mean Reversion. Democrats have a wide field to defend after huge victories in 2006 and 2008. Particularly in the House, there are lots of Democrats in places with a proven willingness to vote Republican. Currently 47 of them are in districts won by both John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004. And voters in those districts may be especially unhappy with a Democratic legislative agenda that causes many Americans mixed feelings.

4. Obama-Reid-Pelosi Agenda. A RealClearPolitics aggregation of polling data shows Americans disapprove of healthcare reform by a 51-38 margin. And only a little more than a third think the $787 billion stimulus plan has done much good, according to pollster Rasmussen. There’s also plenty of worry among the electorate that Washington spending is creating a dangerous level of government debt.

5. Rep. Parker Griffith. Griffith, elected in 2008, could be an electoral harbinger. His district, Alabama’s 5th, gave 60 percent of its votes to Bush in 2004, and 61 percent to McCain. He just switched from Democrat to Republican, saying he couldn’t belong to a party that favors healthcare reform that massively expands the role of government. Even though Griffith voted against the stimulus, cap-and-trade and healthcare plans, he clearly felt that guilt-by-party-association threatened his re-election.

6. Unemployment. Underlying voter unease with Capitol Hill is deep concern about unemployment. And that leads to a simple equation: Joblessness drives presidential approval ratings, and it’s those ratings that drive midterm congressional results. Despite a landslide win in 1980, for instance, unemployment approaching 11 percent drove Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings down to the low 40s in November 1982 when Republicans lost 26 House seats. (And only five narrow GOP victories by fewer than 50,000 votes kept the Senate even.)

As unemployment has risen this year, Obama’s approval has steadily eroded to around 50 percent currently. The White House says it doesn’t expect employment growth until the spring. And if even the economy begins to create jobs, the actual unemployment rate could still rise as the long-term unemployed begin to actively seek jobs again and thus start being counted by the Labor Department. It would take a year of 4 percent growth generating 200,000 to 250,000 jobs a month to bring the rate down to 9 percent. And even that would be twice as high as what Americans have been used to during the past two decades.

7. Discontent with Democrats. At the same time, the generic congressional ballot has shifted from a high single-digit Democratic lead to a low single-digit Republican lead as independents veer back to the GOP. What’s more, a recent poll by the liberal Daily Kos blog found just 56 percent of Democrats definitely or probably voting in 2010 vs. 81 percent of Republicans. Note that a new Rasmussen poll has Sen. Ben “60th Vote” Nelson, who won reelection in 2006 with 64 percent of the vote, down 61-30 in a hypothetical 2012 matchup vs. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Dems in both chambers will surely take note of those numbers. Indeed, the prospect of a terrible 2010 environment has already pushed some veteran Democratic legislators in competitive districts into retirement such as John Tanner of Tennessee and Brian Baird of Washington.

8.  Economic Damage. Even if the unemployment rate falls a full percentage point next year,  it may not help Democrats much. Americans only slowly regain their economic confidence after a deep recession. When Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994, the economy had been growing steadily since the nasty 1990-91 downturn and unemployment had fallen sharply, though not fully to its pre-recession levels. Yet 72 percent of Americans at the time still thought the economy was “fair” or “poor,” according to Gallup.

As political forecaster Charlie Cook has noted, what happens in the House depends a lot on there being more Democrat retirements in competitive seats. The GOP needs a 40-seat pickup. The more Dem members that stick, the less likely a changeover. If the numbers start going north of 12-15, a warning signal should sound for Democrats. (In 1994, Democrat departures created 31 open seats, 22 of which were won by the GOP.)  For now, Cook sees a possible 20-30 seat pickup in the House for the GOP and four to six in the Senate. (Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln and Chris Dodd look especially vulnerable). But Cook may be underestimating how the dreadful New Normal in the economy will create a New Normal in politics in 2010.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

In off year elections thus far the swing has been 20 points toward the conservative Republicans. That translates into a 100+ seat pick up for the Republicans in 2010.

Posted by JAY | Report as abusive

I’m hoping it is a bloodbath for these COMMUNISTS that are the leaders of the “democrat” party.

Posted by Steve Lyons | Report as abusive

Really? You’re going to quote Realclearpolitics and Rasmussen? Rasmussen is the GOP polling site. Realclearpolitics posts 80% of its articles as anti-Democratic. That’s your evidence and source? May want to go on a little fact finding mission. As for VA and NH, those elections weren’t surprising to anyone who knows politics and knows the candidates and states involved and the challenges they faced. Some of your facts are true and some assumptions make sense, but some are just eye rollers

This blog has clearly been taken over by delusional tea bagging nutcases. I am truly going to laugh when Obama is re-elected in 2012 by a landslide and I hope it is Sarah Palin running so we can end that wacko’s career once and for all.

I love all the revisionist history too,like Obama ran up this debt blah blah blah blah

George Bush presided over the worst decade in our history next to the 1860s and 1930s. He began the decade with a recession and ended it with a depression. He started 2 wars and blew a budget surplus so he could give some rich fat cats more money so they could invest it in China and ship more tea bagger jobs overseas!!Oh, and the Iraq war was not even in the budget(and also financed by the Chinese) until Obama said let’s fess up
about what we are spending-and then you attack him for that bit of realism!! The hypocricy of these idiots continues to amaze me. I have not even gotten into the underfunding of the troops equipment and how many men and women were killed on the battefield for that reason. If you want to put those idiots back in power, be careful what you wish for. Attacking Obama totally misses the point. You should be tar and feathering any Repuke you can find!!

Posted by EWS | Report as abusive

In response to Larry Bachmann’s post, you need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. The consensus of economic experts is that jobs will not rebound that quickly. There will be minimal growth but nothing expansive, especially by this summer as you claim. The jobless rate could still be hovering around 10% or slightly less by then. If that’s the case, voters will blame the party in power, as they always have, and push the offenders out of office. That’s simple historical fact.

Secondly, it’s not just 40% of the country that shares the “irrational anger” of conservatives. You’ve left out the 35% who describe themselves as moderates, swing-voters, who are also fed up with ORP (Obama/Reid/Pelosi). Polls show a definite trend away from ORP where moderates are concerned, thus the reason for the overall disapproval of Obama’s job performance. So as for your prediction about only minimal gains for Republicans in the next election, we’ll just see about that.

Finally, you stated, “Republican hysteria about his citizenship, his radicalism and his desire to destroy America will all play into Obama’s and the Democrat’s hands”. That doesn’t even make any sense. Obama’s citizenship is questioned only by a small minority of people (not all Republican) who have too much time on their hands and is not a belief held by any majority. It’s only blind liberals like yourself who march in lockstep with The Huffington Post who try to place a blanket of blame on Republicans/Conservatives for such moronic extremism. And as for Obama’s radicalism, which I’m glad to see that you acknowledge, even well-documented ties with extremists like Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright didn’t stop him from being elected. So your entire point on this matter is completely irrelevant.

So instead of reading tea leaves, it might serve you better if you engaged in a little actual real-world analysis.

Posted by Jerry DeSalvo | Report as abusive

Count me on the “throw the bums out” bandwagon. But who are the bums?

1.) Sure the Pelosi/Reid robots should be scrapped. I can’t believe that anyone with half a brain would elect Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House but the Dems have done it twice!

2.) The Obama Dems should be tossed out on their fannies if for no other reason than they let Obama stuff his cabinet full of know-nothings and incompetent boobs. These guys rode the coat tails and drank the Kool-Aid and now they have to pay the price.

3.) RINOs and DINOs, Congress is full of these types of self promoting, glad handing, professional politicians who bend with the latest political wind and have no spine or belief system of their own. All the RINOs and DINOs need to go, starting with Specter and Graham, and then we could throw out some of the WINOs too.

4.) Spineless Republicans. We are in our current mess because we had a bunch of spineless wimps in the Republican Party who would not standup for the priciples that they ran on. Instead they wanted to “just get along” and they allowed the Dems to walk all over them. I say throw these bums out too.

5.) Career Incumbents. These are the guys like Byrd, Feinstein, Boxer, Specter, et al, who have been in Congress for decades. They have lost touch with their constituents and now think that they have a manifest right to rule. I now favor term limits but the best term limiter is just to vote these jokers out.

So, who is left? Not many, I think that my mood can best be summarized as “No Incumbents”. We need new blood in Congress, it is the only way to actually reform it. So, I will be voting for the new guys, the ones without a family history in politics or a decades long career of seeking higher office.

Posted by edlarson | Report as abusive

Hey Ken, big dummy. The reason the ‘republicans’ (small r) lost NY23 is because they ran Scozzafava, who was farther left than her democrat opponent. Conservatives responded by voting for a 3rd candidate, Hoffman, who with a fraction of the campaign budget garnered a sizeable chunk of votes (30′s I think?)

As for calling Reuters a ‘Republican machine’ Truly you are deaf blind and dumb. Reuters has a history of being left. Maybe you should write Obama and let him know he needs to attack someone besides just Fox News.

Posted by Schlippy | Report as abusive

Good news! President Palin will have a Republican House and Senate to work with after 2012! I will raise at least $2 million dollars for Governor Sarah Palin and wear out a pair of diabetic shoes knocking on doors and putting up signs for her.

That is if they don’t start losing there lives before then. They are pushing real hard against us and people are starting to decide if the push back should start. Odumbo and his Marxists in congress can do irreversible damage before the next election. We all know the lamestrem media will never tell us the truth they are irrelevant now. When people see no way out they get angry and frustrated. This breeds violence. If Odumbo and the Congress don’t start listening to the people they will see things go south in the next few months.

Posted by Harley2002 | Report as abusive

No offense, but what planet do you live on Pethokoukis? Is that a traditional Martian name?

Posted by James | Report as abusive

“Personally, I hoping for a wave like ‘94, but not 1994. I’m hoping for a wave like 1894 where the Dems lost 125 House seats. Is it possible? Yes.”

Doubtful though. Republican gains will be tempered by the fact that the public is disgusted with them just as with the Democrats.

Posted by lance sjogren | Report as abusive

And the MSM and the Libtards laughed and ridiculed the Tea Party Protesters. Gee, they’re not laughing now.

Posted by Cogs | Report as abusive

Let’s make 2010 a blood bath for the democrats and then do the same in 2012. B. Hussein Obama is bend on distroying this coutry of ours with the full support of the commies in congress. They must be stopped.

I think that this is too simplistic. It relies on typical discontent voters have when unemployment rises, and opposition to incumbents after one party takes the presidency. These are true and will play a role, but is that all? What about President Obama’s powerful victory? What about his success on health care? Unpopular now, but what about once he and others campaign and explain its achievement? What about the fact that the economy may be on an upswing? What about poor Republican demographics as young people reject the conservative social agenda? This analysis may be true, but it misses a few variables that could also be as or more important.

You morons just keep on pretending that 2010 will not be a banner year for the GOP. You’re all in denial big time. Everything in the posting is absolutely on the mark. The great political handicapper, Charlie Cook, now forecasts that the dem’s will lose anywhere from 30-54 seats in the house and 4-8 in the senate. This is a tsunami heading for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid now own health care, the economy, the bailouts, and the stimulus. Do you guys on the ledt really think this is a winning strategy for you guys? Do you think the economy is beginning to get cranked up? Good luck. The magic is over. Come on 2010. I can’t wait.

I agree. Throw the whole damned lot of them out! If not by the ballot, by force! They have betrayed the Constitution and trod our country under foot for the last time. I say throw EVERY ONE of them out, if not in November, maybe even before then! WE ARE ANGRY.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

Hank Rearden wrote: “Come to think of it. If I, as a normal US constituent, showed up at my Senators office one day with a suitcase full of promises and $50M or $100 Million for his vote – what would the courts do with me?

What happened to the term – unconscionable ?”

AMEN! Well said. And the only difference is that in one case, you would be bribing the Congressman with your own money, whereas in the other he is bribed by fellow Congressmen with OUR money.

They ought to take the whole lot of them out and whip them in the shadow of the Capitol dome.

Posted by James | Report as abusive


Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive


Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

Obama and the Democrats have given us double digit UNEMPLOYMENT, and more corrupt spending and debt than in the history of the world. The 21st century Louisiana Purchase and Cornhusker Kickback are now part of our everyday vocabulary. The Obama administration’s reaction to a terrorist waltzing onto an American plane with an explosive device that didn’t go off because the terrorist was incompetent and the passengers bravely tackled hims was “The System Worked”! But its the spending and corruption that are the worst as Obama and the Democrats have just forgotten about the UNEMPLOYED and the Economy while they force their corrupt agenda down the throats of unwilling Americans. We have to end the arrogance and corruption of power and restore balance to our Government in 2010!

Posted by valwayne | Report as abusive

History has proven to go aginst the opinion of the people is the “KISS OF DEATH” for the party whom chooses to do so. soooooooooooo obamacrats get ready for the BLOOD BATH in the 2010 elections!

Posted by ARTMAN | Report as abusive

One metric you refer to…”It would take a year of 4 percent growth generating 200,000 to 250,000 jobs a month to bring the (Unemployment) rate down to 9 percent…” is astonishing.

Tough sledding in 2010 for sure.

Posted by david doran | Report as abusive

As an independent voter, I have very mixed feelings about the upcoming election. Yes, I’m dismayed and outraged about how the rigid-ideologue Democrats have been making a mess of things, from the economy on down. But the only practical alternative is to vote for Republicans, who have proven to be just as rigid and just as apt to make colossal messes when in unchecked power.

While I will almost surely vote for the GOP in this next election cycle, my goal is certainly not to usher in a new era of conservatism. It’s simply out of hope that a divided government will put an end to this era of failed liberalism. Were Mr. Obama somehow to be replaced in the White House by a Republican by next November, I would vote for the Dems. And, I’ll continue to vote for split government until one party or the other grows up and stops prostrating itself to their ultra-wing nuts.

Posted by njns | Report as abusive

RAYGUN apparently can’t think for him/herself.

Posted by Buzz | Report as abusive


Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive


Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

It’s not enough to take the house back. It’s important that new leaders emerge. Let’s support Eric Cantor, Michell Bachman as Speaker and Whip. The Pols have NO idea how mad we are. They are going to find out. This year will be a wild ride in politics.

Posted by Dan G | Report as abusive

The reason the Democrats won NY23 is because the Republicans ran Scozzafava, who was well to the left of most Republicans and the Conservative Party candidate, Hoffmann, didn’t live in the district and knew nothing about local politics. Two flawed Republicans split the vote and the Democrat won.

I fully expect the GOP to take that seat back in 2010.

Posted by JimBeam | Report as abusive

I like the idea of divided government. Two thieves keeping each other honest.

That’s all the two parties are: two competing packs of thieves. They exist primarily to funnel money from the taxpayers to their friends.

Posted by JimBeam | Report as abusive

If Eric Cantor and/or Michelle Bachmann (do you people realize yet that your lax spelling habits make the rest of us feel sorry for you?) emerge as national leaders, that would be fantastic. Until then, there is a United States government, remember? Why not support it? Why act like little spoiled rich kids worried there won’t be enough money for a new car, only a used one, at your 16th birthday party? Democrats bad!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

You guys are nuts

Posted by Marcus A | Report as abusive

Democrats bad!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

The Change that Democrats are recklessly foisting on the people is not to the PEOPLE’s liking.
Let the PEOPLE do something about it.
It’s their call!!

Posted by Oliva | Report as abusive

WHY THE DEMOCRATS WILL LOSE THE HOUSE IN 2010: THE LARGEST MARGIN OF VICTORY (w (silver spoon texas) was appointed by his daddy’s supreme court appointees) IN A (non-incumbent) PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN HOW LONG? YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, DO YOU? BUT YOU SPEAK FOR THE PEOPLE!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

why is rush limbaugh in a hawaiian hospital?
http://www.miamiherald.com/854/story/140 4049.html
it’s a conspiracy, i tell ya, dick! a mainstream media conspiracy! and meanwhile, where is osama bin laden? oh wait, it’s OBAMA’S FAULT that varmint’s on the loose! yeehaw!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive


Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

I am glad Griffith switched parties no matter what reason anyone thinks. I feel he is a patriot for doing so and am glad he did. Now lets talk Arlen Spector.

Posted by grannie | Report as abusive

Well well well…where to start. First “RAYGUN”—you are such a tool. Why don’t you bury that tired old saw about President Bush causing the “worst decade” since the 1930′s? By any objective analysis interest rates, public debt to GDP ratios, and UNEMPLOYMENT rates were all low in that time period. GDP growth rates were good too–until the Barney Frank/Chris Dodd/Acorn housing Ponzi-scheme housing bubble wiped out the world. Will you tell me the HR bill number where President Bush signed the laws that allowed all of this crap to happen? What is the date of the bill sir? I’ll save you the job of looking it up—Bush didn’t sign the bills because there weren’t any. Your criminal Democrat buddies running FreddieMac and FannieMae did the deed. That and President Bubba’s allowing the banks to get into selling securities. Bush got the blame for having a laizzez faire economy but the race pimps, and the Democratic Party did the dirty deeds.

Posted by Blackwatch | Report as abusive

If Pethoukis is saying that the Democrats will lose the House then they have a lock on it.

Lynch the Dems in 2010!

Posted by Dan Krauther | Report as abusive

Laissez faire! Spell it right. But you’re right, I am a tool! So was Bush! Was he just too stupid to do anything about the housing bubble? Ownership society! Or was he just a feckless Republican scion of privilege, too coddled early in life to understand life takes effort? Because the Republicans controlled Congress for a few years there. Were they just lazy? Or corrupt? But hey, HR bill #! Good one!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

Because when did Frank and Dodd (and ACORN! how shameless are you?) have any power while the bubble inflated? Enron!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive


Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

deficits don’t matter!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

The very evidence of incompetance lays directly on the DemoncRATS and Barry Hussein Obama. The Chicago politics is in the Greyhouse active and well (For now). “Acorn Obama” continues to try and pull the wool over America again. The time to get these bums is NOW. Jimmy Carter sleeps well due to Obama’s incompetance and will take his title in history as the worst President ever!!!!!

Posted by disgusted2 | Report as abusive

Don’t blame BUSH for the final nail in the financial coffin that nearly bankrupted the WORLD.


http://www.frbatlanta.org/filelegacydocs  /wp0920.pdf,

READ: “The Financial Crisis of 2008 in Fixed Income Markets” Gerald P. Dwyer and Paula Tkac
Working Paper 2009-20
August 2009
Figures 5,6 and 7.

Posted by Mad_as_H | Report as abusive

in your world bush is blameless! priceless! it’s all everyone else’s fault! forget the guy who was in charge! and now, well, obama’s in charge, so it’s all his fault! amnesia and ideological convolutions like that don’t render you ridiculous, nosiree!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

I’m ready to vote now.

Posted by JoeCollins | Report as abusive

hey disgusted2, how do you spell “incompetence”? and it “lays”? see how easy this is? you lie! let’s lynch the demoncrats! yeehaw! obama’s cronies! ken lay! whoo hoo!

Posted by RAYGUN | Report as abusive

Young People:

VOTE in 2010. Vote against whomever pushed this ideologically dead european quasi-socialist agenda on you. The Republicans are our best bet for the sake of the country. They seem to be getting the people’s message.

The Democrats are taken over by a socialist left, dead in the rest of the world yet somehow reborn here due to an overprivileged, over medicated generation of baby boomers. You youngsters are our only hope. VOTE IN 2010 for Conservative, American Values; low taxes, less government, free markets.

It’s for YOUR sake.


Posted by Paul from Brooklyn NY | Report as abusive