What the US Midterm Elections Mean for Policy and the Markets

Will Democrats retake the House of Representatives in the US midterm elections this fall? Will it matter for your investment portfolio if they do? Probably not so much, although a Democratic sweep of both houses could be more disruptive.

Who controls Congress will almost certainly influence important fiscal and regulatory policy decisions—and that matters for investors and portfolio managers. And it could have an effect on certain parts of the equity market, with different outcomes likely to favor different sectors.

But will the party leadership of Congress drive long-term investment returns? That is far less certain. For example, there’s been plenty of data showing that party control of the White House has historically had no correlation with stock market performance.

Even so, we often get asked what different election results might mean for policy and investment strategies. To answer that, we looked at three possible outcomes of this year’s vote and what each might mean.

1. Gridlock Is Good

It’s not unusual for an incumbent president’s party to lose seats in midterm elections. In each of the last three—in 2006, 2010 and 2014—the opposition party took control of one or both chambers of Congress.

Recent polls suggest that 2018 will continue the trend, with a split Congress the most likely outcome. As of September 24, the polling aggregation website FiveThirtyEight was giving the Democrats an 80.7% chance of winning control of the House. But it’s a different story in the Senate, where President Donald Trump’s Republican party has a 69% chance of holding the chamber.

Historically, the US equity market has done well during periods of gridlock in Washington (Display 1), and there’s reason to believe that markets would breathe a sigh of relief if this year’s election yields a split Congress.