Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who Is Held Accountable?

Today's Pioneer Press carried this graph about midterm elections, comparing presidential approval ratings with the number of House seats lost or gained:

Graph of presidents since 1962
From this graph, I learned that Richard Nixon had a 47 percent approval rating in October 1974, three months after he had resigned. What's up with that, McClatchy-Tribune and any remaining Pioneer Press copy editors? Did you mean to write the name Gerald Ford? (Nixon's last approval rating before he resigned in July was in the mid-20s.)

More importantly, I learned that voters have treated Democrats much more harshly than Republicans:

  • Kennedy had a 74% approval rating and still lost four seats.
  • Obama -- whose approval rating is 8 points higher than G.W. Bush's in 2006 -- lost twice as many seats.
  • Reagan's approval rating in 1982 (a time of deep recession and the year I graduated from college to look for a job, alas) was only 43 percent, yet he only lost 26 seats.
Democrats lost an average of 27 seats, while Republicans lost only 17. In contrast, the average approval rating for Democrats was 55.7, compared with Republicans at 52.9.

(Obviously, there's a large range in the approval ratings and number of seats, so the averages may give a skewed impression, but the medians are probably even less revealing with such a small number of data points: the Democrats' median is 50.5 for approval and -31 for seats, while the Republicans' is 57 for approval and -12 for seats.)

Despite the Nixon error, it's a fascinating chart. If voters truly intend to show dissatisfaction with unpopular presidents by unseating their party members, you'd think they'd be a little more consistent. Instead, there appears to be an unacknowledged double standard.

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