On March 1, 2022, President Biden gave his State of the Union address. That same day, PredictIt’s balance of power for the midterms remained almost the same as the day before. The day after Biden’s State of the Union the odds were virtually the same too. Aside from a few one-cent movements, PredictIt users favored the Republicans to regain both houses of Congress in the 2022 midterms.
The biggest speech of the year had no impact on the presidential approval rating, either. Biden’s approval rating doing into the State of the Union was 41%. After the State of the Union, one poll pegged his approval rating at 43%.
The State of the Union seems like such a big deal. However, it has little to no impact on a president’s approval rating or his party’s chances at the polls. The State of the Union isn’t for approval ratings or campaigning. It’s the president’s wish-list for Congress.
Presidential Approval Rating And Speeches
In 2019, FiveThirtyEight did an analysis of 35 State of the Union speeches. This analysis found that the State of the Union:
- Had little impact on approval ratings
- Barely impacted legislation
- Was viewed more by members of the president’s party than the opposition party
Some presidents had major changes to their approval ratings after their State of the Union speeches. But these large changes were exceptions to the rule. As the FiveThirtyEight authors write, “presidential approval ratings have budged by more than 4 points in either direction after only five of the 35 speeches, and in those cases, it’s often easier to attribute the shifts to outside events.”
So, if political bettors see a large movement in a president’s approval rating, they should look at real-world events rather than the State of the Union. It’s part of a larger lesson for political bettors: you can’t get out of studying political events when you’re creating a betting system.
The balance of power in Congress will determine how much of his agenda President Biden can pass into law. Remember, Congress passes and votes on bills that become law. The president only signs or vetoes those bills. He’s a powerful figurehead, but the legislative power rests in Congress.
Historically, the opposing party gains seats in one or both chambers of Congress. (Sometimes, the incumbent party can avoid losing Senate seats. It’s rarely that lucky with the House.) The midterms are where voters can vent their frustrations with the president’s party. Not everyone who turned out for the presidential elections also votes during the midterms, changing the electorate.
Finally, there can be what FiveThirtyEight calls a political “reversion to the mean.” Any outsized reaction to the presidential election can be tempered during the midterms. That’s why this year, Republicans could regain control of the House and Senate. Part of Biden’s victory came from an anti-Trump wave that Biden rode to the presidency. Now that the anti-Trump rage has dissipated, Republicans could have a chance with moderate independents again.
By the end of May and June, the first congressional primaries and run offs will end. The matchups between candidates will give political bettors better ideas about the chances that Republicans really have to retake both chambers of Congress. History may support that prediction.
But political bettors need to understand key races instead of relying on past patterns. Every pattern identified in this article has had an exception to it. The most successful political bettors can draw their own conclusions instead of relying on others to draw them.