In addition to historic inflation, that’s the environment Democrats face five months from Election Day. This could prove disastrous for them.
When looking at something like gasoline prices in a historical context, it’s best to look at price fluctuations. The public is likely to be much more forgiving of paying $4.70 a gallon if, this time last year, they were paying $5.70.
The problem for Democrats is that at this point last year, the average price for regular gasoline was just over $3 a gallon. This means gasoline prices are up more than 55% from 12 months ago. No other midterm cycle has shown a rate of increase close to that of the five months before the election.
The closest was 37% in 2006. And since 1978, there has only been one other midterm year (2018) where the rate of gas price growth (in percent) at this point in the cycle was in double digits.
In fact, before this year, the average since 1994 for midterm elections was only 5%. It is around 0% when we include monthly data from 1978. This year we see something more than 50 points higher.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the two midterm cycles that saw the largest percentage drop in gas prices (1986 and 2002) were those in which the White House party either won seats in the House or lost a minimal amount. Meanwhile, 2006 was a year in which the White House party (Republicans) lost 30 seats and control of the House.
Yet the relationship between gasoline price increases at this point in the medium-term cycle and November’s election results is far from perfect. Gas prices were down at this point in the 1994 cycle, and the White House party (Democrats) lost a net 54 House seats.
Monthly data is harder to come by before the 1970s, but annual data paints the same picture: we’re dealing with something we’ve really never seen before at this point in a mid-year.
Likewise, inflation (measured by the consumer price index
) is historically high. There was exactly one semester in the last century (1974) when the rate of inflation (year over year) was at the same level or higher than it is now.
The average at this point in medium-term cycles over the past century has been around 3%. We’re over 8% now, almost triple that long-term average.
But like gasoline prices, the effect of inflation on medium-term earnings is far from predictable. Yes, the two years with the highest inflation growth rates (1942 and 1922) saw losses of 44 or more House seats for the White House party.
The 1970 and 1978 midterm cycles featured inflation rates above 6% at this point, but the White House party held its House losses to 15 seats or less.
Again, though, we’re dealing with something on the edge of what we’ve seen historically. I’m not sure we really know how voters will react.
Indeed, the way Americans view the economy as a whole is something without many historical analogies.
The latest Gallup poll shows that 85% of Americans consider the economy to be in fairly good or bad condition. This is the highest level of any Gallup measurement since April 2012.
The only other midterm since 1994, when so many Americans thought the economy was just right or wrong, was 2010 – and the White House party (Democrats) lost 63 seats and the House majority that year -the.
Five months later, signs point to a great Republican year
Anyone who reads my columns knows I’ve been pretty high on Republican hopefuls this cycle. These beliefs were grounded in the macro political environment (eg, the generic congressional ballot).
With the redistricting complete in all 50 states, we can now see that the microenvironment is much like what we would expect in a major GOP cycle.
Take a look at the latest House race notes from the Cook Political Report and the House Elections. These outfits rate individual House runs on a scale from “solid” to “likely” to “skinny” for a given party to be “thrown away”. Inside Elections has a “tilt” category for races between lean and toss-up.
What you will see are many more seats held by Democrats who are vulnerable right now (i.e. leaning only to their party or worse).
Since 2000, the number of vulnerable Democratic seats compared to those held by Republicans has been strongly correlated with election results. If the election were held today, the average of these two outfits indicates a Republican gain of about 25 seats in the House. That would give them almost 240 seats. That’s about on par with what happened midterm in 2010.
It all makes a lot of sense. Republicans have won a majority in the House in every midterm since 1938, in which they led the generic congressional ballot at that point.
Moreover, the cause of the Democrats’ problems is quite easy to identify: everything we mentioned in the first half of this column.
President Joe Biden’s approval rating for gas prices is around 30%. On inflation, it’s about 30%. His net approval rating on the economy as a whole stands at -26 points – tied with Jimmy Carter for the worst at this point in a mid-cycle since 1978.
It’s a big deal for Democrats when voters list the economy or inflation as their top issue, depending on how the poll question is posed.
In other words, whatever we expect to happen when certain economic metrics are at historically bad levels is happening.
The silver lining for Democrats is that we are still five months away from the election. Things can change. For example, we don’t know how voters will react if the United States Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade.
That said, time is running out. There are many political science models that do a good job of predicting election results with only data available at the end of June of an election year. As election analyst Sean Trende has pointed out, many election results are basically cooked in
By this point.
Democrats are going to have to hope that the unusual economic statistics we’re seeing this year lead to an unusual outcome.
For your brief encounters: Americans love this 72-degree summer thermostat
As I noted above, we are already into summer, by a number of measures. The heat, which I find unbearable, can ultimately lead to discussions about what temperature to set the air conditioner to.
Well, polls show that a plurality of Americans like to set that thermostat at 72 degrees, both day and night.
If you find this stat interesting, you should read my column on other fun summer stats, including the fact that Americans prefer other seasons to summer.
Remnants of surveys
Support for same-sex marriage is growing: The latest Gallup poll reveals that 71% of Americans say same-sex marriages should be valid. This is the highest percentage ever recorded by the pollster. One of the only demographic groups where a majority is not in favor: weekly devotees (40%).
Students and in-person learning: A Pew Research Center poll of teenagers shows that 65% of them would prefer to learn in person once the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Only 9% want learning to take place online, while 18% prefer a mix of the two.
Stability of the Covid-19 vaccine: An Axios/Ipsos poll from mid-May showed that 74% of American adults had received at least one injection of the vaccine. Taking into account the margin of error, this percentage has not changed since September.