In addition to historic inflation, this is the environment Democrats face five months from Election Day. It could be disastrous for them.
If you look at something like gas prices from a historical context, it’s best to look at price fluctuations. The public will probably be much more forgiving of paying $4.70 a gallon if they paid $5.70 at this time last year.
The problem for Democrats is that at this point last year, the average price of regular gasoline was just over $3 a gallon. That means gas prices are up more than 55% from 12 months ago. No other medium-term cycle has seen a rate of increase close to the five months before the election.
The closest was 37% in 2006. And since 1978, there has only been one other semi-annual (2018) year where the gas price growth rate (as a percentage) has been in double digits at this point in the cycle.
For this year, the average since 1994 for midterm elections was just 5%. It’s about 0% if we include monthly data from 1978. This year we see a little over 50 points higher.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two mid-term cycles with 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.
Still, the relationship between the gas price hikes at this point in the medium-term cycle and the November election results is far from perfect. Gas prices had fallen by this point in the 1994 cycle and the White House Party (Democrats) lost a net of 54 seats in the House.
Monthly data is harder to come by before the 1970s, but the annual data paints the same picture: we’re dealing with something that we really haven’t seen before at this point in a six-monthly year.
Likewise, inflation (as measured by the consumer price index) is at an all-time high. In the last century (1974) there has been exactly one intermediate period in which inflation (year on year) was at the same level or higher than it is now.
The average at this point in the mid-cycles over the past century was about 3%. We’re now over 8%, or nearly triple that long-term average.
But like gas prices, the effect of inflation on medium-term results is far from predictable. Yes, in the two years when inflation was highest (1942 and 1922), 44 House seats or more were lost to the White House Party.
The mid-cycles of 1970 and 1978 currently showed inflation rates of over 6%, but the White House Party kept its losses in the House at 15 seats or less.
But again, we’re dealing with something that’s on the outside of what we’ve historically seen. I’m not sure we really know how voters will react.
Indeed, the way Americans think about the economy as a whole is something without many historical analogies.
The latest Gallup poll shows that 85% of Americans view the economy as fair or bad. That’s the highest level in all Gallup readings since April 2012.
The only other interim term since 1994, when so many Americans thought the economy was fair or bad, was 2010 — and the White House Party (Democrats) lost 63 seats and the House majority that year.
Five months on, signs point to a great Republican year
Anyone who reads my columns knows that I’ve been pretty high on Republican hopes this cycle. Those beliefs are based on the macro-political environment (e.g., the general congressional vote).
With the realignment completed in all 50 states, we can now see that the microenvironment is much like what we would expect in a major GOP cycle.
Check out the latest House race ratings from the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections. These outfits rate individual House races on a scale that ranges from “solid” to “probably” to “lean” for a particular party to “toss-up.” Inside Elections has a “tilt” category for races between lean and toss-up.
What you will see are many more Democratic seats that are vulnerable at the moment (ie leaning only towards their party or worse).
Since 2000, the number of vulnerable Democratic seats relative to Republican seats has strongly correlated with election results. If the election were held today, the average of those two outfits would indicate Republican gains of about 25 seats in the House. This would give them almost 240 seats. That’s roughly equivalent to what happened in the 2010 midterm exams.
This is all very logical. Republicans have won the House majority in every midterm session since 1938, leading the congressional general vote on this point.
Moreover, the root 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 when it comes to gas prices is about 30%. On inflation it is about 30%. His net clearance score for the economy as a whole stands at -26 points — equaling Jimmy Carter for the worst at this point in an intermediate cycle since 1978.
This is a major problem for Democrats when voters view either the economy or inflation as their main problem, depending on how the poll question is asked.
In other words, everything we expect to happen when certain economic measurements are historically bad happens.
The silver lining for the 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 US Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade.
That said, time is running out. There are many political science models that can accurately predict election results using only data available towards the end of June of an election year. As election analyst Sean Trende has pointed out, many election results are: actually ingrained
on this point.
Democrats will have to hope that the unusual economic statistics we are seeing this year lead to an unusual outcome.
For your brief encounters: Americans love that summer thermostat at 72 degrees
As I mentioned above, we are already in the summer due to a number of measures. The heat, which I find unbearable, can eventually lead to discussions about what temperature to set the air conditioner to.
Well, polls show that a multitude of Americans like to set that thermostat to 72 degrees, both during the day and at night.
If you find that stat interesting, read my column on other fun summer stats, including the fact that Americans prefer different seasons over summer.
Support for same-sex marriage is rising: The latest Gallup poll shows that 71% of Americans say gay marriage should be legal. That is the highest percentage ever measured by the pollster. One of the few demographics that a majority does not support: weekly churchgoers (40%).
Students and personal learning: A Pew Research Center survey of teens shows that 65% of them will prefer face-to-face learning once the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Only 9% want learning to happen online, while 18% prefer a combination of both.
Covid-19 vaccine stability: A mid-May Axios/Ipsos poll found that 74% of US adults had received at least one shot of the vaccine. Taking into account the margin of error, this percentage has not changed since September.