In 2007, political professor Larry Sabato wrote a book called "The Six-Year Itch," referring to a term used to describe the American tradition of handing the party occupying the White House a significant defeat at the polls during the president's sixth year in office. Sabato's book described the 2006 election when the Republicans, with President George W. Bush in his sixth year as president, lost six Senate seats and 30 House seats.

The six-year itch — called the six-year curse by some — struck again last week.


Before Republicans get too excited and Democrats too depressed, perhaps some history will put last week's election in perspective. Since World War II, the party occupying the White House lost an average of six Senate seats during their sixth-year midterm elections. In 1986, for example, Republican President Ronald Reagan suffered from the six-year itch and lost eight seats in the Senate. But that was nothing compared to 1958, when Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower lost 12 Senate seats and 48 House seats during his sixth year.

Democratics also suffer from the six-year itch, as President Barack Obama demonstrated last week when his party lost seven Senate seats (probably eight after the Louisiana runoff is completed). In 1938, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt lost seven Senate seats, as well as 72 House seats at his six-year mark.

Since the end of World War II, only one two-term president has managed to beat the six-year itch. That exception, of course, is Bill Clinton in 1998 when he did not lose any seats in the Senate and actually picked up five seats in the House. Political analysis Charlie Cook explains that this Clinton exception was "the backlash against the Republican impeachment of" Clinton.

Midterm elections at the two-year mark of a presidency are also marked by the loss of Senate and House seats by the party occupying the White House. Since 1862, according to Cook, "only in 1934, 1998, and 2002 did a president not lose ground in the House" during his first midterm election. But it is the six-year mark for presidents that is especially harsh, as "the novelty, energy and excitement of newly elected presidents tends to dissipate in their second terms" according to Cook.

The six-year itch speaks in support of a constitutional amendment limiting American presidents to one six-year term. Let's face it, after six years most Americans are ready for a new president, regardless of his political party. This may also reduce some of the politics we currently observe in Washington as it removes the four-year presidential re-election campaign. Perhaps — and this may be wishful thinking — American presidents would focus more on governing instead of campaigning during their first four years.

A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with how Washington operates regardless of which party is in control and frequently vote for change. For example, it is rare for a political party to win the White House for three consecutive cycles (see 1960, 1968, 1976, 2000, and 2008 as recent examples). The last time this was accomplished was when President George H.W. Bush followed two-term President Ronald Reagan in the election of 1988. But then Bush was run out of office after one term. Hilary Clinton may want to consider this trend before deciding to run in 2016. History is clearly not on her side.

Republicans should enjoy the results of America's most recent six-year itch because in two years the political landscape will change. Many more Democrats than Republicans had to defend their seats in the Senate last week. In 2016, depending on retirements, between 24 and 26 Republican senators will be defending their seats, compared to only 10 Democrats. Also, since 2016 includes a presidential campaign, expect more Democrats at the polls than we saw last week.

As my friend Sabato tells his students at The University of Virginia, "Politics is a good thing." For now, anyway, Democrats may not agree. But things change quickly in American politics. Just ask Anthony Brown.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.