Economic Message Vital for Republicans’ Hold on Congress, Experts Say

GOP still faces the risk of losing their grip on House, despite booming economy, low unemployment
September 19, 2018 Updated: September 20, 2018

WASHINGTON—The state of the economy plays a crucial role in driving electoral outcomes. However, it remains to be seen whether Republicans can hone their midterm message enough to turn the currently booming economy into a political victory this fall, according to political analysts.

Economic growth climbed above 4 percent in the second quarter, while the unemployment rate sits at 3.9 percent, near its lowest level in 18 years. U.S. job openings have surged to record-high levels and wages are finally starting to rise.

Even with all the good economic headlines, public polls, as well as historical data, suggest that Republicans are likely to lose ground, particularly in the House.

In November’s midterms, all 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats will be up for election. To gain control, the Democrats need to grab 23 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate.

The RealClearPolitics generic ballot shows Democrats at 49 percent with an 8.5 percent lead over Republicans at 40.5 percent.

“I don’t think that there is a blue wave. I think that has been hyped by the media,” said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.).

He believes the economy is the paramount issue that will determine the outcome of the elections.

He recalls the famous motto, “It’s the Economy, Stupid” coined by James Carville, who was Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist leading up the 1992 presidential election. It was one of the three formulations used during the campaign that helped then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton to defeat incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

“His point was that the economy trumps all other issues,” said Livingston. “If the economy feels good, then people will vote their wallets.”

“In fact, the polls have not looked good for Republicans. And it is possible for Republicans to narrowly lose control of the House.”

However, he still thinks that a good economy, low unemployment, and the success of the stock market should help Republicans overcome the current disadvantage in the polls.

“I continue to be optimistic or at least hopeful that Republicans will hold on to control of the House,” he said.

“If they do a good job of selling what they have done over the last two years, I think they’ll be fine.”

Voters typically reward the party in power for good economic results. There are exceptions to this rule, particularly if voters are concerned about other factors like wars or scandals.

The 1966 election is one of the standard examples. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s party suffered a big loss despite a good economy, said John Gizzi, chief political columnist of Newsmax.

“In 1966, the economy was doing well in the United States. But, at the same time, there was violence on campuses and an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam,” he said. “The Republicans played on this and gained.”

Democrats lost 47 seats in the House and three seats in the Senate in the 1966 midterms.

‘History Is Working Against the Republicans’

Historical data also suggests that the president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms. In the 21 midterm elections since 1934, the president’s party has lost ground in one or both chambers in all but three elections, according to Ford O’Connell, a political analyst and Republican strategist.

“History is working against the Republicans, despite the great economic numbers,” he said, adding that the single biggest factor in a midterm election is the party that controls the White House.

The average loss for the incumbent party in the House in a midterm election is usually about 25 to 27 and the average losses in the Senate is typically four, according to O’Connell.

“It’s a historic phenomenon that seems to repeat itself almost every time,” said Livingston. “And the reason is that the president comes in on a high road of euphoria. But then, for one reason or another, the American people decide that they are less enamored of the president.”

Livingston believes there’s a very strong possibility that it could happen again this year.


November’s midterms will also determine the next two years of Trump’s presidency. The result will influence his economic and regulatory policies, as well as the possibility of his impeachment.

The latest polls suggest that the Republicans are likely to lose control of the House and may barely keep the Senate.

“This election is going to be about impeachment or no impeachment,” the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said in August at an event in New Hampshire.

The House voted against two impeachment efforts brought last winter by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas).

According to O’Connell, Republican voters are complacent and the party needs to find a solution to the “enthusiasm gap problem.”

“The economy is going good, but the economy is not going to be enough for Republicans,” he said. “They have to remind voters of the consequences of giving power back to Democrats.”

A recent Fox News poll shows that 76 percent of Clinton voters are certain that they will vote this fall, while only 67 percent of Trump voters say that they will vote. Those numbers have to mirror one another if the Republicans want to hold the House and make gains in the Senate, O’Connell said.

Otherwise, Democrats will impeach Trump and launch investigations to the point that the “entire government may come to a grinding halt,” he warns.

Follow Emel on Twitter: @mlakan