Visual Guide: The Balance Of Power Between Congress and The Presidency (1901-2016)

Which party controls Congress? Which, the White House? The answer reveals the “balance of power” in the two branches of government that have elected officials (Congress and the White House). [Jump to chart]Americans seem to prefer that the checks-and-balances envisioned by the founders be facilitated by having different parties control Congress and the White House.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the time (in modern political history, post 1945) Congress and the President are at odds; that is, most of the time the same political party does not control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.

Only 14 times (28 years) since 1945 have both branches of Congress and the Presidency been controlled by the same party; the Democrats have held this advantage more often than Republicans (11 to 3).

Congress has usually been controlled by the same party with the “odd man out” being, literally, the President.

Since 1945, the House and Senate have been controlled by different parties only five times (10 years). However, three of those have been since the 2000 elections, which makes this “seem” more normal to us than it is, historically. And there have been only two complete turn-overs of Congress since 1949: one in 1995 and the other in 2007.

Demographics

The 115th Congress, which will convene January 3, 2017, will have 21 women in the Senate and 83 women in the House. Four of the new female Democrats are minorities:

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA) is the first Indian-American woman in the House;
  • Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL) is the first Thai-American in House;
  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) is our first Latina senator;
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) is the first black woman senator in almost 20 years.

These four members join Sen. Mazie Hirono (HI), who became the first Asian-American woman to gain a seat in the chamber in 2012, and will bring the total number of minority women in the Senate to four.

Women account for 50.8% of the US population but only 21% of the US Senate and 19% of the House. We rank 99th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s parliamentary representation.

The average age of members of the 114th Congress is slightly younger than in recent history:

  • 114th Congress (2015-2016): 57.0 years for Representatives and 61.0 years for Senators
  • 111th Congress (2009-2010): 57.2 years for Representatives and 63.1 years for Senators

U.S. Representatives must be at least 25 years old when they assume office (January following the November even-year election). Senators must be at least 30 years old. (CRS report)

 

Balance Of Power Between Congress and The Presidency

Updated: 30 October 2016 11 November 2016

Year Congress President Senate
100
House
435
Wars & Economics
2017 – Trump 115th R R: 51 R: 2xx
2015 114th D R: 54 R: 247[6]
2013 – Obama 113th D D: 52 R: 232[5]
2011 112th D D: 56 R: 241 Iraq (2003-11)
Great Recession (2007-2011)
2009 – Obama 111th D D – 57[4] D – 256 Iraq, GR
2007 110th R D – 49[3] D – 233 Iraq, GR
2005 – Bush 109th R R – 55 R – 232 Iraq
2003 108th R R – 51 R – 229 Iraq
2001 – Bush 107th R D[2] R – 221
1999 106th D R – 55 R – 223
1997 – Clinton 105th D R – 55 R – 228
1995 104th D R – 52 R – 230 Savings&Loan Crisis (1986-95)
1993 – Clinton 103rd D D – 57 D – 258  S&L
1991 102nd R D – 56 D – 267 S&L; Iraq (1990-91)
1989 – Bush 101st R D – 55 D – 260 S&L
1987 100th R D – 55 D – 258  S&L
1985 – Reagan 99th R R – 53 D – 253  S&L
1983 98th R R – 54 D – 269
1981 – Reagan 97th R R – 53 D – 242
1979 96th D D – 58 D – 277 Hostage Crisis (1979-1980*)
1977 – Carter 95th D D – 61 D – 292
1975 94th R D – 60 D -291 Vietnam (1955-1975)
1973 – Nixon 93rd R D – 56 D – 242 Vietnam, US withdrew (1973)
1971 92nd R D – 54 D – 255 Vietnam
1969 – Nixon 91st R D – 57 D – 243 Vietnam, Draft began (1969)
1967 90th D D – 64 D – 247 Vietnam
1965 – Johnson 89th D D – 68 D – 295 Vietnam
1963 – JFK (d) ; Johnson 88th D D – 66 D – 259 Vietnam
1961 – JFK 87th D D – 64 D – 263 Vietnam
1959 86th R D – 65 D -283 Vietnam
1957 – Eisenhower 85th R D – 49 D – 232 Vietnam
1955 84th R D – 48 D – 232 Vietnam
1953 – Eisenhower 83rd R R – 48 R – 221 Korea (1950-1953)
1951 82nd D D – 49 D – 235 Korea
1949  – Truman 81st D D – 54 D – 263 Korea
1947 80th D R – 51 R – 246
1945 – FDR (d) ; Truman 79th D D – 57 D – 242 WWII (1939-45)
1943 78th D D – 57 D – 222 WWII
1941 – Roosevelt 77th D D – 66 D – 267 WWII Pearl Harbor (1941)
1939 76th D D – 69 D – 262 WWII
1937 – Roosevelt 75th D D – 76 D – 333  Great Depression (1929-39)
1935 74th D D – 69 D – 322  G.D.
1933 – Roosevelt 73rd D D – 59 D – 313  G.D.
1931 72nd R 48[1] R – 218  G.D.
1929 – Hoover 71st R R – 56 R – 267  G.D.
1927 70th R R – 48 R – 237
1925 – Coolidge 69th R R – 54 R – 247
1923 – Harding (d) ; Coolidge 68th R R – 53 R – 225
1921 – Harding 67th R R – 59 R – 300  Depression 1920-21
1919 66th D R – 49 R – 237
1917 – Wilson 65th D D – 54 R – 216  WWI (1914-18)
1915 64th D D – 56 D – 231  WWI
1913 – Wilson 63rd D D – 51 D – 290  WWI
1911 62nd R R- 52 D – 228
1909 – Taft 61st R R – 60 R – 219
1907 60th R R – 61 R – 222 Panic of 1907
1905 – T. Roosevelt 59th R R – 58 R – 250
1903 58th R R – 57 R – 207
1901 – McKinley (d) ; T. Roosevelt 57th R R – 56 R – 198

Yellow years mark Presidential inauguration.

* Iranian hostage crisis ended when Carter’s presidency ended.

Sources:
Senate, House, Janda, InfoPlease, Wikipedia

[1] There were 48 Republicans, 47 Democrats and one Farmer-Labor who caucused with Ds.

[2] There were 50 Ds and 50 Rs until May 24, 2001, when Sen. James Jeffords (R-VT) switched to Independent status, effective June 6, 2001; he announced that he would caucus with the Democrats, giving the Democrats a one-seat advantage.

[3] Two Independents (Lieberman-CT and Sanders-VT). Lieberman was reelected in 2006 as an independent candidate and became an Independent Democrat;  Sanders was elected in 2006 as an Independent.

[4] Two Independents (Lieberman-CT and Sanders-VT);  Arlen Specter (PA) was reelected in 2004 as a  Republican and became a Democrat on April 30, 2009.

[5] House data (3 vacancies); Senate independents caucus with Democrats

[6] As of October 20, 2016, there was one vacancy (only 434 members)

 

~~~~

I created this table (and introductory narrative) while I was the US Politics guide at About.com. I left that position in March 2009.

~~~~~

Q&A

  1. Why start with 1901?
    For several years, the start-date was 1945 because this mid-century marker reflected the “modern” era. I expanded it to 1901 after a discussion of how often a political party was able to hold the White House for 12 years or more.
  2. Why not include key events, bills?
    The goal was create an at-a-glance chart that simply showed the balance of power. I agree that knowing key historical events could provide additional perspective. To that end, I have now marked times of war. Given sufficient time, I might add an additional page that highlights key legislation or other items of historical interest.

 

RELATEDVisual Guide : The President v the Senate (Confirmed Nominations)

 

 

69 thoughts on “Visual Guide: The Balance Of Power Between Congress and The Presidency (1901-2016)

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Don Evans

    November 20, 2016 at 5:12am

    Demographics – 115th Congress correction
    Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL) is the first Thai-American senator

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Billy Skinner

    November 17, 2016 at 4:57am

    This is awesome. I have been looking for this for several years and give up and did my own. I added two columns that I dont see on yours. They are 1)hourly compensation and 2) productivity, which show a continuous negative correlation no matter which party is in control. This is my source: http://www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation/.
    What are your thoughts?

    • KE Gill

      November 17, 2016 at 4:14pm

      Thanks, Billy! (I’m originally from SW Georgia, BTW.)

      I had not thought about adding wage stagnation but charts showing that common preconceptions about the two parties and economy vitality are important.

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Mike Viater

    November 11, 2016 at 12:06pm

    Very good… the only change I would make is on the 1921… Why not “Roaring Twenties”? then move the Depression by 1929. Unless this is the revision of history you want to keep.

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 3:45pm

      The 1921 depression is not the Great Depression. It is the post WWI depression.

  4. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Paul Wheaton

    November 11, 2016 at 7:18am

    During 1931-1932 Hoover (R) was still President. Chart does not reflect this as of right now. Hoover was in office until noon, March 4, 1933 when FDR took over.

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 3:46pm

      1931 *is* Hoover. I only post the name when there is a vote. FDR’s name does not appear until 1933.

  5. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Rick

    November 11, 2016 at 4:19am

    Need to add R or D next to the President.

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 3:47pm

      The president’s party has its own column, alongside Senate and House.

  6. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    tom paper

    November 10, 2016 at 1:23pm

    Kathy – I love the table above! Thanks for doing this. Any chance you can update for the results from Tuesday? Thanks, Tom

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 3:47pm

      Thanks, Tom! Yes, probably Sunday. :-)

  7. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Nobody

    November 10, 2016 at 9:02am

    Your table is still wrong for the 83rd Congress. That should say R-221 in 1953 and be shaded full red across.

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 10:52pm

      A early comment included a link with this info. This has been updated.

  8. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Mike

    November 9, 2016 at 11:14pm

    1931 should read as R for President Hoover, please correct.

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 3:48pm

      1931 *is* Hoover. I only post the name when there is a vote. FDR’s name does not appear until 1933.

    • KE Gill

      November 11, 2016 at 3:53pm

      TY, Curt! That’s been in error a long time (unless I introduced the error when I added the first half of the century last month).

  9. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Paul H

    October 29, 2016 at 11:27am

    Kathy, great information that I was trying to put together myself. I read many of the comments and scratched my head as I understood exactly that what you posted are facts that don’t connate good or bad. The good or bad is a matter of perspective and while having the major accomplishments of each Congress might be interesting for bills passed it wouldn’t tell us what wasn’t passed that maybe should have been. FWIW, I agree on your starting point. The problem with going back even to the 1930’s is that the great depression and WWII both created untypical periods of actions.

    • Kathy E. Gill

      October 29, 2016 at 10:32pm

      Hi, Paul – thank you for your kind words. I should probably answer some of these questions in the main article.

  10. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Craig Ricks

    August 4, 2016 at 11:12am

    Why did you stop at 1945? I would have gone back to at least 1933 when “Social Justice” really began. Then you would have a much more lopsided chart. In my humble opinion Republicans have had very little opportunity to actually affect policy to any great degree since 1933 and the birth of modern Progressivism.

    • Kathy E Gill (@kegill)

      August 4, 2016 at 5:27pm

      Hi, Craig – I don’t remember. :-)
      I’m guessing it had to do with ease of finding the info back when this was originally built, more than 10 years ago.

  11. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jerry Verlinger

    February 14, 2016 at 12:00pm

    @Old Fogey. Are you now or were you ever a member of the Newsvine subsidiary of NBC News? I recall knowing someone that went by that user name when I was more active on that site. As a matter of fact he was on my “Friends List” until they abolished them.

    • Kathy E. Gill

      February 14, 2016 at 1:51pm

      That be me, Jerry. How the heck are you??

  12. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jerry Verlinger

    February 14, 2016 at 11:50am

    The “chart” you designed for this presentation is very confusing and difficult to follow or understand. I was trying to find out who had control of the Senate during the last year of Reagan and Eisenhowers’ last year in office, but I had to go elsewhere. .

    • Kathy E. Gill

      February 14, 2016 at 7:50pm

      Hi, Jerry — I’m sorry! Can you please share the link for a visualization that worked better for you?

      Here’s the “line” on this chart for the session of Congress (two years) during Reagan’s last year in office:
      https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5317130/2016/images/reagan-last-year.png

      When it was built — 10-12 years ago, this table format was all we had as an option. I’ve not fiddled with its presentation, just try to remember to keep adding each new Congress. Which I don’t always remember to do!

    • Kathy E. Gill

      September 6, 2015 at 4:21pm

      Hello, Peter — I have not “characterized” the parties.

      This chart documents the balance of power between the two houses of Congress and the White House. It does not attempt – in any shape/form/or/fashion – to characterize political party ideology.

      And the ideology has certainly changed over time. Today’s Republican Party bears little resemblance to the Party of Lincoln, for example. For example:

      During the 1860s, Republicans, who dominated northern states, orchestrated an ambitious expansion of federal power, helping to fund the transcontinental railroad, the state university system and the settlement of the West by homesteaders, and instating a national currency and protective tariff. Democrats, who dominated the South, opposed these measures. After the Civil War, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for African Americans and advanced social justice; again, Democrats largely opposed these expansions of power.
      http://www.livescience.com/34241-democratic-republican-parties-switch-platforms.html

      Not surprisingly, the overlap of the region known as the Confederate States of America and modern electoral college votes is quite telling.

      This Washington Post analysis from 2012 shows the Republican Party shift from “moderate” to “conservative” orientation — much (most?) can be traced to Reagan’s influence:
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gop-platform-through-the-years-shows-partys-shift-from-moderate-to-conservative/2012/08/28/09094512-ed70-11e1-b09d-07d971dee30a_story.html

      Finally, your links (above) are to the same page, the Republican Party Platform of 1960.

      This is the Democratic Party Platform of 1960:
      http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29602

  13. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    eewalker39

    October 17, 2012 at 6:21am

    Great and informative chart. Thanks. Shouldn’t the complete turnover of congress dates be 1995 and 2007?

    • mattrich731

      August 15, 2015 at 10:19pm

      No its correct, 2010(11) was the year the Repubs won back the house and thats what the chart says. I think its accurate :)

  14. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Sarah

    September 30, 2012 at 8:40am

    it would be interesting to add a column highlighting major events/laws/act/bills passed by year to get a picture of how the relationship between these government positions shapes our nation.

    • mattrich731

      August 15, 2015 at 10:20pm

      I think that would be an amazing idea! It could give the average voter something to take into account!

    • Kathy E. Gill

      September 6, 2015 at 4:22pm

      Thanks, Sarah – very good idea.

  15. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Name witheld by request

    July 29, 2012 at 7:14am

    Lee Bacott’s comment “the overwhelming cover of “blue” areas indicate how the left has dominated and failed the people, and where our rights have been undermined”, gives me pause. Are you wealthy? If not, you should consider examining who has proposed the majority of legislation eroding the rights and financial stability of the poor and middle class. If you really investigate objectively, I think you’ll be surprised at what you find. Both parties are equally to blame. All of the headline worthy topics; guns, abortion, social security… are just devices used to distract the public from seeing the larger picture. These people are legislating for their own gain. They want to maintain wealth and power, nothing more, nothing less. How “We the people…” fare is not their concern.

    • mattrich731

      August 15, 2015 at 10:24pm

      you realize before LBJ the parties were switched and democrats of those days believe in similar things Republicans do now and vice versa, so yeah just wanted to make sure you have all your facts straight :)

  16. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Louie

    June 26, 2012 at 3:14am

    It would be helpful if you listed the President’s name beside each term. My memory can’t associate them.
    — Old Fogey

    • Kathy E. Gill

      September 6, 2015 at 4:25pm

      I don’t remember when, but I did make this addition. :-)

  17. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Lee Bacott

    March 3, 2012 at 9:22pm

    this is a nice visual chart that shows just how we got to this point in our nations history…the overwhelming cover of “blue” areas indicate how the left has dominated and failed the people, and where our rights have been undermined….enjoy!

    • Kathy E. Gill

      September 6, 2015 at 4:23pm

      As others have pointed out — as I just did — the policy positions of the parties have flipped in my lifetime.

  18. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Tom

    August 4, 2011 at 12:20pm

    thanks for this chart, needed it for an argument with my Aunt! :-)

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