Barack Obama and the Six-year Itch

The Six-year itch

One of the  most discussed recurring events in is what political scientists call the six-year itch. The chief characteristic is that the President and his party lose ground usually in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the mid-term election at the 6 year mark of their presidency. This is due to voter frustration with the incumbent President and his party.

Here is the record of all two term presidents going back to FDR in 1938.

6 year itch
*  Losses by the President’s party resulted in the other party gaining control of this house.
** Although the President’s party lost seats, this house was already under the control of the opposition party.

Three records need to mentioned.

  1. Thomas Jefferson is the only President in the 6th year of his presidency whose party gained seats in both houses.
  2. Bill Clinton (1998) is the only President since the Civil War reconstruction (1865-77) who did not lose seats in either the House or the Senate due to the six-year itch.
  3. The huge loss by the Republicans in 1958 in the Senate is the largest in history.

Charlie Cook writes in the National Journal:

Obviously, American voters do not have the date of each second-term, midterm election circled on their calendars to kick the party in the White House. But the novelty, energy, and excitement of newly elected presidents tends to dissipate in their second terms. We normally see a scarcity of new (good) ideas, and, to put it bluntly, a level of fatigue starts to plague the relationship between a president and the electorate. Statements, decisions, and policies from the first term can come back to haunt the administration during second terms. Certainly, “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it” might be a nominee in this category. Bad things tend to happen once a president reaches his second term, be they scandals, unpopular wars, economic downturns, or whatever.

Cook goes on to add.

This pattern certainly doesn’t indicate an inevitable outcome, but it certainly isn’t accidental or coincidental. It is just the manifestation of the laws—or at minimum, strong tendencies—of human nature and politics. It doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t have to happen. But it usually does.

It will be cold comfort to  but if his party loses ground at the 6 year mark of his presidency it will put him in some pretty good company.

Comparing the last four two term Presidents

So how do the last four two terms Presidents compare in regards to win and losses in the Congress?

House of Representatives (435 seats):


The US Senate (100 seats):


In the House the two Republican President’s have by far the best record. The Senate numbers reveal that Bush is a clear winner. It looks like after next Tuesday elections Obama’s Senate record will be equal or slightly worse than both Reagan and Clinton whilst in the House the polls are predicting further losses for the Democrats.

Bear in mind each President had different issues to deal with some self inflicted and some not, so it is matter of debate who was the best (or worst) President.

NOTE: All numbers are from Wikipedia. I normally don’t use it when doing research but the numbers seem to be correct as far as I can tell.

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