What will the midterm results say?

With the midterm elections coming up, some commentators are already speculating if there will there be a GOP wave or maybe even a GOP tsunami.  In the mainstream media (MSM), they would like nothing better than to be able to say it was just a Republican year, typical of the first midterm with any president.  So, before election results come in, it is helpful to establish what the background for this election is and what would constitute a year, a wave, or a tsunami for the Republicans.

The background of this election is that the Senate is evenly split at 50-50, and the House is very narrowly divided, 222 Democrats to 212 Republicans with one vacancy.  The presidential election of 2020 was quite unusual in that an incumbent president reportedly lost, while his party gained seats in the House.  This is taken by many commentators to mean there are fewer in-play House seats this year that the GOP could gain.

What would constitute a GOP year?  What results would allow the MSM to at least semi-honestly claim it was just a typical midterm?  Since WWII, in the first midterm of a presidency, the party of the president has on average lost about 28 seats in the House and about 1.5 seats in the Senate.  That implies that if the Republicans gain fewer than two Senate seats and fewer than 30 in the House, one might just call it a typical midterm, though the caveat about there being fewer in-play House seats should be kept in mind.  The bottom line is that if the GOP wins anything less than 240 seats in the House and 52 seats in the Senate, the MSM will certainly argue that such results are typical for any president's first midterm elections.

If the GOP gains more than 30 seats in the House and two or more seats in the Senate, we are moving in Republican wave territory.  If the GOP wins 242 to 250 seats in the House and 52 to 53 Senate seats, some will call this a wave election.  This would require the GOP to hold all its Senate seats, including the toss-up seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and pick off two or three of the four toss-up seats in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire. 

When does a GOP wave become a Republican tsunami?  That would be when the GOP starts beating Democrat incumbents and winning in Democrat strongholds, such as in Vermont, Colorado, and Connecticut.  The RealClearPolitics website has moved the Washington state Senate election to toss-up status.  If the GOP wins 40+ House seats and 4+ Senate seats, the GOP would be in tsunami territory. 

Gubernatorial races might also play into this.  Further evidence of a GOP tsunami would be GOP wins in even a third of some races long thought to be safe Democrat such as Oregon, Michigan, N.Y., New Mexico, and Minnesota.  The bottom line is that it is starting to be a tsunami if the GOP gains 40+ House seats for a 252 to 183 or larger majority and wins a 53 to 47 or better majority in the Senate.  Further evidence of a tsunami would be the GOP winning three or more of those nine races listed that were thought to be safe Democrat seats heading into this election or other surprise results for the GOP.

In summary, if the GOP gains fewer than 30 House seats ending with less than 240 seats in the House and fewer than 52 Senate seats, it is probably just a typical Republican year for a first midterm of a Democrat president.  If the GOP gains between 30 and 40 House seats, earning between 243 and 252 seats in the House and 52 or 53 Senate seats, it is a GOP wave election.  Finally, if the GOP gains 40+ House seats, finishing with 252+ House seats and 54+ senators, then it is a GOP tsunami, particularly if they pick off some Democrats thought to be safe in Democrat states.

James L. Swofford is a professor of economics in the Department of Economics, Finance and Real Estate at the University of South Alabama.

Image: Library of Congress.

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