Q&A – Winning Presidential Candidates Who Lost Congressional Seats

Today’s entry: Brian, how does Joe Biden get a record number of votes and doesn’t flip ONE House seat? And can possibly lose up to 13. That has to be a first.

Bottom Line: It does seem like an odd feat that the winning party of the Presidential popular vote would actually lose in Congress. We’re now a week away from Election Day and we have two Senate seats which won’t be decided until January 5th in Georgia and 20 outstanding races in the House of Representatives. All we know at this point is that yes, Republicans will have gained Congressional seats when all votes are certified. As of now, Republicans have lost one net seat in the Senate but gained five seats in the House. The outstanding 20 races present additional net pickup opportunities for Republicans. Right now, the upside looks like 10 pickups with the current five gains being the floor. But you might be surprised to know that’s it’s not all that odd to have the winning President’s party actually lose ground in Congress. In fact, over the past 100 years, it’s happened six times prior to this election, the last time was with President Trump in 2016.

In fact, if we only look at statewide contests, there have been nine Presidential cycles in the past 100 years in which the President’s party has lost Senate seats. This balance represents pragmatism by Americans overtime and the wisdom of our founders to build checks and balances into the system. To many partisans, it may seem odd to vote for one party for President and another down-ballot, but it was common this cycle. In fact, in my story, What Generation is the most Partisan, I highlighted the fact that 18% of voters intended to vote split ballots this year, with younger voters being the most likely to split ballots. The examples of this happening are all over the country but most notable in Maine where literally 18% of voters who voted for Biden voted for Susan Collins for Senate. As for the record number of voter's thing. Try not getting caught up in that too much. Over time, the numbers always go up because of population growth. 

While most Americans do prefer one political party in all races, there are nearly a fifth of voters who aren’t so ideological in their preferences. These individuals are actually more inclined to vote split ballots in Presidential cycles than midterm elections. The phenomenon of a president’s party typically losing seats in congress is based on this principle as well. That's why these voters often vote for the opposing party of the president in midterm elections. Incidentally, this effect bodes well for Republicans for the two Senate runoffs on January 5th in Georgia.

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Photo by: DAVID SCULL/AFP via Getty Images

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