The U.S. midterm elections tend to be a hard on the president’s party. Only twice since the era of Calvin Coolidge has a president broken the curse.

“[The] phenomenon is more than a mere tendency. Midterm loss is an almost invariable historical regularity,” wrote Robert S. Erikson in The Journal of Politics in 1988. Erickson estimated the average cost to the president’s party as 9 percent of the vote.

Explanations vary. Gallup poling highlights the importance of presidential approval ratings. But shellackings in the midterms long predate the polling data. Older than the Grand Old Party, older even than the House congressional gerrymander, the curse dates back to Thomas Jefferson’s thumping of Alexander Hamilton during the Federalist Era.

Below, in caricature, are 10 incumbent-punishing midterms, each a seismic event that foreshadowed an anti-establishment earthquake, each a realignment that shifted the center of power.For another take on the “midterm penalty, see Yenor’s “Why Politics Cannot be Reduced to a Science.”

Gallery: Two Centuries of Midterm Penalties

A study of elections in political caricature

Share:Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someonePrint this page

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.