Jim Kessler observes that poor economic conditions don’t per se guarantee gigantic losses for the president’s party in the midterms:
All in all, the president’s party holds some pretty bad cards — but even so, this year needn’t be like 1994. If Democrats take a close look at what happened that year, they can avoid repeating it. And if they look to another election year, 1982, they might even find inspiration in an unlikely place: President Ronald Reagan’s leadership. In the run-up to that year’s midterm elections, Reagan faced 10.8 percent unemployment, 6 percent inflation, a declining GDP, an approval rating barely above freezing and the indignity of having drastically increased the budget deficit over the previous year after running as a fiscal hawk. You can’t get a hand much worse than that, but Reagan nonetheless managed to hold all 54 GOP Senate seats while losing only 26 House races.
When I first read that I was genuinely surprised at the loss of zero Senate seats so I looked it up and, indeed, Democrats made no net Senate gains though seats in Virginia and New Mexico did flip:
What strikes me about this map is how long ago 1982 was in terms of the evolution of the American party system. Democrats held on to seats in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas while the GOP maintained control of seats in California, Vermont, and Connecticut. It strikes me that in today’s more ideologically- and geographically-aligned party system, the fate of congressional candidates is probably more closely tied to assessments of the president than was the case in the past.