It's getting lonely around here.

Win the White House, Lose the Midterms

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Here's my midmorning summary of what happened in midterms 2014.

The way to win Congress, and quite a few statehouses, too, is to lose the White House.

In the Senate, Republicans took full advantage of excellent opportunities. The House was even better for Republicans but, again, a fair amount of that was opportunity.

But what explains the significant Republican landslide in governor's races? Even in a year that figured to be good for Republicans, the Democrats had quite a few excellent pickup opportunities in the states. They only succeeded in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Republicans have added governors in (among other states) Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. They appear to have picked up a few legislative chambers, too.

We'll have to wait for more definitive answers, but the largest chunk of it is simple: Republicans won because a not very popular Democratic president was having his final midterm.

As someone remarked on Twitter last night, Barack Obama will now be the third consecutive president to enter office with unified government, be re-elected and eventually enter his final two years with out-party majorities in both chambers. Obama is slightly more popular than George W. Bush was, and a lot less popular than Bill Clinton at the same point, but the outcomes were in many ways similar if looked at over their presidencies as a whole. Forget redistricting, forget high-tech electioneering, forget money, forget all of it. Whoever is in the White House is the key. Put another way, whenever a party wins unified control, it had better take advantage of it while it lasts, because that isn't going to last long.

My focus on the big picture is in no way meant to dismiss the likelihood that individual Democrats did things wrong, and individual Republicans got things right, which pushed some elections over the line and increased the final score. in both 2010 and 2014, Republican gains were greater than the fundamentals suggested and therefore need some additional explanation.

But it's also true that pundits will conclude that everything the winning side did must have been responsible for the victories, and everything the losing side did contributed to their losses. And that's just not true.

  1. Dwight Eisenhower and Woodrow Wilson, too.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net