How Important Are Mid-term Congressional Elections?

For a while now, the political beltway has had its eye firmly focused on next year’s congressional elections, in which Democrats look poised to lose a number of seats. I have repeatedly opined that this focus is misdirected; nobody will remember the results in – say – 2020.

Nevertheless, an opinion without evidence behind it remains just that. Perhaps I am wrong: devastating congressional loses really do negatively impact presidential administrations. Since President Barack Obama’s primary political concern involves his legacy, I decided to investigate the relationship between congressional losses and presidential legacy.

To do this, I graphed two variables: the number of House seats lost in first-term mid-term elections, and approval ratings at the end of the administration’s term. The latter does not perfectly measure legacy; nevertheless it provides a generally accurate barometer. Presidents with poor legacies generally receive poor end-of-term approval ratings, and vice versa. Under a statistically significant relationship, a graph of the two variables might look something like this:

According to this hypothetical result, presidents with strong legacies have fewer seats lost; those with weak legacies have more lost. Below is a table of the actual results:

This translates into a graph as below:

A quick surface glance reveals no apparent pattern between the two variables. If anything, they appear to be purely random. To be sure, however, I ran a correlation analysis of the results. This indicates the degree to which values in one list are associated with values in another.

I found the correlation coefficient to be 0.066187425 – essentially there was no relationship between mid-term elections and presidential legacy. (A test of the hypothetical graph’s values, in contrast, returned a correlation coefficient of 0.976511251.)

What conclusions can be drawn from this? First-term congressional mid-term losses appear to bear no relationship to presidential legacy; their importance is greatly overstated by the Washington beltway. President Barack Obama should worry less about November 2010: that election will have little political effect on his future legacy. Passing an effective health care bill would be well worth the loss of even a hundred congressional seats, both for the country’s sake and for his own political gain.


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Call to Action: Debate Disgrace

The KET debate is going on as scheduled tonight. Heather Ryan will be there to debate the issues effecting Kentucky and the Nation, however the cowardly lion Exxon Ed Whitfield is a no-show.

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