Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Horses In Midstream

Horses In Midstream

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Horses In Midstream
    Book Description:

    Horses in Midstreambreaks the mold of midterm election literature by focusing on the consequences of midterm elections rather than on the causes of the anti-administration pattern of those elections. The book concludes that the midterm pattern has two primary consequences: it stymies the President and provides an opportunity for the revitalization of the opposition party-and that numerical losses by the President's party is really only a small part of the equation. Consequently, midterm elections can be considered an additional check in the U.S. political system, acting as a mechanism that helps to assure rough two party balance.In examining the historical results from midterm elections dating back to 1894 and extending to the surprising result of 1994 and 1998, Busch has uncovered seven consistent ways in which the president and his party are harmed by midterm elections. These elections unfavorably alter the composition of congress, both between the parties and within the President's own party; they deprive the President of the plebiscitary power derived from his original electoral mandate; they give an intangible sense of momentum to the opposition party, leading to renewed opportunities for the opposition to put forward new leaders and to develop winning issues; they exacerbate splits within the President's own party; and they provide the opposition party with expanded party-building opportunities at the state level. Busch also places the midterm elections into four categories: "preparatory" midterms, which contribute to a subsequent change in party control of the Presidency; "calibrating" midterms in which voters slow but do not reverse extraordinary periods of Presidentially-driven change; "normal" midterms when midterm elections stymie the President without contributing to a White House takeover; and the rare "creative exceptions" when an administration escapes the midterm curse at the polls and find themselves invigorated rather than weakened. Busch's new approach to midterm elections, his well supported conclusions, and his clear, consistent style will certainly be of interest to political scientists and will translate well to the classroom.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7507-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    American politics is nearly unique among North Atlantic industrial democracies in that the United States regularly holds national legislative elections midway through the term of its executive officer.¹ In those “midterm” elections, mandated by the United States Constitution, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of U.S. Senate seats are up for election. In addition, most American states now elect their governors and other statewide officers in midterm election years.

    Despite the potentially profound impact of midterm elections, they have traditionally been the poor stepchild of American electoral studies in most respects. The two questions that have...

  2. ONE Midterm Elections and Checks and Balances in the American System
    (pp. 8-44)

    Students of American politics are familiar with the multitude of mechanisms that serve to prevent excessive concentration of power and to require adequate deliberation rather than hasty action. Separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches is foremost among those mechanisms. “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands;” as Madison remarked inFederalist47, “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny:”¹ That separation at the federal level was taken one step further by the principle of bicameralism, dividing the legislative branch (which the Founders assumed would predominate in a republic)...

  3. TWO State Midterm Elections
    (pp. 45-59)

    While attention is generally focused on the results of midterm elections in Congress, there is another venue of midterm elections—the states—which also exhibits a consistent anti-administration pattern carrying significant and occasionally profound consequences. In a variety of ways, state midterm elections complement the national factors working to impose a check on the president and his party.

    The pattern attending congressional midterm elections is clearly operative at the state level, as well. In both gubernatorial and state legislative elections, the president’s party consistently suffers losses in midterm years. In an early study of this subject, V. O. Key concluded...

  4. THREE Midterm Elections as the Vanguard of Change: I. REALIGNMENT AND THE ELECTIONS OF 1894 AND 1930
    (pp. 60-82)

    While midterm elections in general make life more difficult for presidents, a negative checking power is not their sole characteristic. To the contrary, midterm elections are often closely connected to long-lasting electoral and policy changes. While they are never the only factor at work, these preparatory midterms help to lay the groundwork for a change in party control in the White House.

    This chapter will examine the ways in which midterm elections contributed to the two generally acknowledged realignments between 1894 and 1998, the 1896 and New Deal realignments.¹ Despite the difficulties involved in classifying realignments (there is more than...

  5. FOUR Midterm Elections as the Vanguard of Change: 2. MORE PREPARATORY MIDTERMS
    (pp. 83-120)

    The pattern of pre-realignment congresses points the way to a broader analytical framework for midterm elections and midterm congresses in general, particularly those preceding less dramatic shifts of political power. The same factors that contribute to realignment contribute to changes on a smaller scale; the same effects are produced but are simply not as deep or as long lasting. Aside from realigning elections in 1896 and 1932, party control of the presidency has changed eight times since 1912, usually for more than one term—in 1912, 1920, 1952, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, and 1992. In six of those cases, the...

  6. FIVE The Calibrating Elections: MIDTERM THERMIDOR
    (pp. 121-136)

    Midterm elections have served as a precursor of change in policy and presidential control. Yet they have also served to blunt and redirect change. For all of the short-term forces at play, for all of the figures promising and to some extent delivering change, only two figures in the twentieth century wrought fundamental and long-lasting shifts in the direction of American government. Woodrow Wilson may have laid the foundation for the administrative state and Lyndon Johnson may have consummated it, but it was Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal that produced an enduring paradigm shift and set the pace for...

    (pp. 137-152)

    Out of all the midterm elections from 1894 through 1998, three stand out as exceptions to the general anti-administration trend. These twentieth-century exceptions to the midterm rule should remove any doubt about either the catalytic potential of midterm elections or their potential to stymie presidents. In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democrats actually gained seats in both houses of Congress; in 1962, John F. Kennedy’s Democrats gained three Senate seats and held House losses to four, the lowest figure since the Civil War era. In both cases, the exceptions to the midterm rule were touted as evidence of a national mandate...

  8. SEVEN Normal Midterms
    (pp. 153-174)

    Some midterm elections may precede and contribute to a long-term change in presidential control—perhaps even a realignment—but most do not. Some midterm elections may playa calibrating role in times of great change, but most do not—if for no other reason than that there are so few periods of great change. Only twice in the century from 1894 to 1994 did midterm elections propel change by violating the anti-administration rule. What about the rest?

    Of the twenty-six midterms from 1894 to 1994, thirteen do not easily fit into any of the categories of preparatory, calibrating, or exceptional elections....

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-186)

    Do American midterm elections matter? Does it matter that the president’s party in midterm elections almost invariably loses congressional seats, state legislative seats, and governorships, and not infrequently loses control of one or both congressional chambers? This was the question presented at the beginning of our discussion. Much scholarly energy has been directed at the important question of why the midterm curse is such a consistent feature of American politics, but little has addressed the arguably more crucial question of what difference it makes. This effort began with two propositions. First, midterm elections do matter—often more than is generally...