Wave elections in the United States

Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Lead section Stuart Rothenberg Redistricting

In political science, a wave election is one in which a political party makes major gains. In the United States, there is no consensus definition of what level of gains constitutes a wave election.[1][2][3]


Political analyst Charlie Cook describes wave elections as the result of a "overarching, nationwide dynamic," such as a high or low Presidential approval rating, economic conditions, and scandals.[4][5] Cook contrasts wave elections with "micro-elections" in which neither party makes significant gains, and candidates, local issues, and other factors not strictly related to party alignment have a stronger role than in wave elections.[4] Although several wave elections may occur in a row, wave elections are usually considered to be the exception rather than the norm.[5] A pick-up of 20 seats in the United States House of Representatives has been used as a cut-off point by analysts such as Stuart Rothenberg.[6][7][8] However, political scientist Dan Hopkins has argued that the term has little utility in understanding elections and that there is no clear cut-off point between a wave election and other elections.[9]

Congressional incumbents in the United States enjoy an electoral advantage over challengers, but a wave election often boosts challengers, resulting in many more incumbents losing than usual during wave elections.[1] A wave election can put into play seats that would otherwise be considered safe for the party holding the seat, and help even flawed challengers defeat incumbents.[1][6] Since at least 1954, wave elections have always benefited one party at the expense of the other, but the term has also been used to describe a hypothetical scenario in which numerous incumbents from both parties lose their seats.[1][5] The first election after redistricting is often a wave election, since many incumbents are less firmly rooted in their districts following redistricting, and many other incumbents retire or suffer primary defeats.[1]

A wave election may also be concurrent with a landslide election, a term which usually refers to decisive victories in Presidential contests. Many wave elections occur during midterm elections, with the party out of power picking up seats.[10] A common pattern involves a party with a victorious Presidential candidate benefiting from a wave election, followed by the opposing party winning a wave election in the next midterm election.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Abramowitz, Alan (22 December 2011). "The Anti-Incumbent Election Myth". University of Virginia Center for Politics. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Wave elections (1918-2016)/Full report". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  3. ^ Green, Matthew (2018). "Was it a 'blue wave' or not? That depends on how you define a 'wave.'". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ a b Cook, Charlie (29 July 2013). "Midterm Elections Could Be a Wave, But Who's Going to Drown?". National Journal. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Cook, Charlie (19 April 2011). "Wave Elections Might Be Washed Up for Now". National Journal. Archived from the original on 21 April 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Bai, Matt (8 June 2010). "Democrat in Chief?". New York Times. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  7. ^ Murse, Tom. "What is a Wave Election?". About.com. Archived from the original on 13 July 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  8. ^ Rothenberg, Stuart (3 February 2011). "Are We Headed for Four Wave Elections in a Row?". Rothenberg Report. Archived from the original on 9 February 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  9. ^ Hopkins, Dan (9 September 2010). "Waves are for Surfing". Monkey Cage. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  10. ^ Murse, Tim. "5 Biggest Wave Elections". About.com. Archived from the original on 6 April 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014.