Visual Guide: The Balance Of Power Between Congress and The Presidency (1901-2017)

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.
  • Congress has usually been controlled by the same party (post WWII) with the “odd man out” being, literally, the President. Only 16 times (32 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 4). However, it has happened four times (8 years) since 2003, making this seem more common that it has been, historically (Republicans, three times). Prior to WWII, having House, Senate and White House controlled by the same party was the norm.
  • Since 1945, the House and Senate have been controlled by different parties only six times (12 years). The first three (in succession) were under Reagan (1981-1986). The other three have been since the 2000 elections, which makes this “seem” more normal to us than it is, historically. From 1901-1945, this happened only twice.

And there have been only two complete turn-overs of Congress since 1949: one in 1995 and the other in 2007.


When the 115th Congress convened January 3, 2017, it had 21 women in the Senate and 83 women in the House. Four of the new female Democrats are minorities:

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.

Demographics: age

The average age of members of the 114th Congress was 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:  5 January 2017 21 January 2018

Year President Congress Senate
Wars & Economics
2019 R 116th  [8]
2017 – Trump R 115th R: 51 R: 238[7] Afghanistan
2015 D 114th R: 54 R: 247[6] Afghanistan
2013 – Obama D 113th D: 52 R: 232[5] Afghanistan
2011 D 112th D: 56 R: 241 Afghanistan
Iraq (2003-11)
Great Recession (2007-2011)
2009 – Obama D 111th D – 57[4] D – 256 Afghanistan,Iraq, GR
2007 R 110th D – 49[3] D – 233 Afghanistan,Iraq, GR
2005 – Bush R 109th R – 55 R – 232 Afghanistan,Iraq
2003 R 108th R – 51 R – 229 Afghanistan, Iraq
2001 – Bush R 107th D[2] R – 221 9/11
1999 D 106th R – 55 R – 223
1997 – Clinton D 105th R – 55 R – 228
1995 D 104th R – 52 R – 230 Savings&Loan Crisis (1986-95)
1993 – Clinton D 103rd D – 57 D – 258  S&L
1991 R 102nd D – 56 D – 267 Iraq (1990-91)
1989 – Bush R 101st D – 55 D – 260 S&L
1987 R 100th D – 55 D – 258  Iran-Contra

1985 – Reagan R 99th R – 53 D – 253  Iran-Contra; S&L
1983 R 98th R – 54 D – 269 Iran-Contra
1981 – Reagan R 97th R – 53 D – 242 Contra
1979 D 96th D – 58 D – 277 Hostage Crisis (1979-1980*)
1977 – Carter D 95th D – 61 D – 292
1974- Ford
R 94th D – 60 D -291 Watergate
1973 – Nixon R 93rd D – 56 D – 242 Vietnam, US withdrew (1973)
1971 R 92nd D – 54 D – 255 Vietnam
1969 – Nixon R 91st D – 57 D – 243 Vietnam, Draft began (1969)
1967 D 90th D – 64 D – 247 Vietnam
Nixon tries to sabotage peace talks during ’68 campaign
1965 – Johnson D 89th D – 68 D – 295 Vietnam
1963 – JFK (d) ; Johnson D 88th D – 66 D – 259 Vietnam
1961 – JFK D 87th D – 64 D – 263 Vietnam
1959 R 86th D – 65 D – 283 Vietnam
1957 – Eisenhower R 85th D – 49 D – 232 Vietnam
1955 R 84th D – 48 D – 232 Vietnam
1953 – Eisenhower R 83rd R – 48 R – 221 Korea (1950-1953)
1951 D 82nd D – 49 D – 235 Korea
1949  – Truman D 81st D – 54 D – 263 Korea
1947 D 80th R – 51 R – 246
1945 – FDR (d) ; Truman D 79th D – 57 D – 242 WWII (1939-45)
1943 D 78th D – 57 D – 222 WWII
1941 – Roosevelt D 77th D – 66 D – 267 WWII Pearl Harbor (1941)
1939 D 76th D – 69 D – 262 WWII
1937 – Roosevelt D 75th D – 76 D – 333  Great Depression (1929-39)
1935 D 74th D – 69 D – 322  G.D.
1933 – Roosevelt D 73rd D – 59 D – 313  G.D.
1931 R 72nd 48[1] R – 218  G.D.
1929 – Hoover R 71st R – 56 R – 267  G.D.
1927 R 70th R – 48 R – 237
1925 – Coolidge R 69th R – 54 R – 247
1923 – Harding (d) ; Coolidge R 68th R – 53 R – 225
1921 – Harding R 67th R – 59 R – 300  Depression 1920-21
1919 D 66th R – 49 R – 237
1917 – Wilson D 65th D – 54 R – 216  WWI (1914-18)
1915 D 64th D – 56 D – 231  WWI
1913 – Wilson D 63rd D – 51 D – 290  WWI
1911 R 62nd R – 52 D – 228
1909 – Taft R 61st R – 60 R – 219
1907 R 60th R – 61 R – 222 Panic of 1907
1905 – T. Roosevelt R 59th R – 58 R – 250
1903 R 58th R – 57 R – 207
1901 – McKinley (d) ; T. Roosevelt R 57th R – 56 R – 198

Yellow years mark Presidential inauguration.
* Iranian hostage crisis ended when Carter’s presidency ended.

House and Senate
Brown University, InfoPlease, Janda, 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)

[7] As of December 31, 2016, there were 246 Republicans in the House and 52 in the Senate. As of January 20, 2018, there were 238 Republicans in the House and 51 Republicans in the Senate.



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



  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)



101 replies on “Visual Guide: The Balance Of Power Between Congress and The Presidency (1901-2017)”

The chart is good but it would make more sense to list the economic catastrophes brought on by republican control on the date the depressions or financial collapses start. Because it’s clear to see that republican control brought on the great depression and then the banking collapse of 2007-2008. But you list it higher up where it ends. What is your thinking in that?

Rex, I list the events “at the top” because it’s in reverse chronological order.

I’m really trying to put too much information in one HTML chart. I’ve been thinking about how to display this information more “info-graphic-like” (imagery).

Great chart! Thanks for posting. I think 9/11 should be on the chart in the war column, considering the military action that it prompted. my two cents.

Thanks for sharing this chart! Another key addition would be the judicial branch. I would like to see how many times we had a conservative vs liberal judicial branch, since we are about to have a situation where all 3 branches will be controlled by one party. Has this happened before?

Lynn, that’s a great idea. But I think it needs to be its own chart. This one has gotten awfully detailed!

Unless I’m mistaken, your statement that “Since 1945, the House and Senate have been controlled by different parties only five times (10 years)” should be altered to six times: 3 times since the 2000 elections and 3 times during the Reagan presidency. Besides this detail, I found your chart very helpful..

[…] The relationship between the box and democracy is that we don’t seem to be focusing on working together much. I’m not talking about one party controlling everything. If you look at statistics since 1900, control [of both branches and presidency] has happened quite a bit. While war does seem to be a common theme during these times, the two major world wars seemed to have started during Democratic control. My source follows: Balance of Power […]

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.

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.

[…] For only the second time since 1929 Republicans control all three branches of government, but Mitch McConnell, the aging Senator from Kentucky still stands in the way and he casts a long political shadow over what Donald Trump will be able to do. As for Matt Bevin he actually went on to become the Governor of Kentucky. In a strange twist of irony, if anything happens to Mitch McConnell during the next four years, Matt Bevin is the one who will select a successor to fill the remainder of his term. […]

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).

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.

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

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.

@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.

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. .

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:

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!

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.

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:

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

This is the Democratic Party Platform of 1960:

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

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.

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

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.

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 :)

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

What are the odds of either the democrats or republicans controlling both houses of congress and the presidency?…

During times of general discontent with a particular party, not bad. It doesn’t last long because following such an imbalanced agenda always annoys a large portion of the population. The odds are growing that Democrats will soon as the Republican part…

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!

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

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