1946 Midterm Elections

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In the midterm elections of 1946 the Republican Party gained 55 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 13 seats in the U.S. Senate, giving them a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1930. Two notable freshmen included future U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

President Harry Truman, who assumed the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, had his approval ratings plummet to just 32%.[1] Truman's problems were ironically within his party coalition. Coal miners and railroad workers were going through a nationwide wave of strikes. Truman decided that the unions had gone too far, and had the government takeover the railroads. He announced that his administration would use the army as strikebreakers and deny seniority rights to strikers.[2] Truman lost the support of unions, which he desperately needed. He further alienated southern Democrats by calling for a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to prevent job discrimination against African Americans.

After taking office, Truman wanted to build on the New Deal, announcing a full employment program, a higher minimum wage, a larger Social Security System, and a national health insurance system. The nation was divided over continued government intervention in the economy. High inflation and lack of consumer goods like bread, meat, and housing resulted in economic anxiety. Republicans blamed Truman for the country's problems, and ran on the slogan "Had Enough? Vote Republican."

Republicans swept into power and put them in a position to thwart the Truman Administration's programs. Thomas Dewey was handedly reelected Governor of New York, and become the Republican nominee for President in 1948. Truman's reelection chances looked bleak. A public opinion poll taken in December 1946 revealed that only 35 percent of those surveyed supported his handling of the presidency. However, Truman pulled a major political upset, winning reelection by attacking the "do nothing Republican Congress."

In reality, the 80th Congress was anything but a "do-nothing Congress." They left behind a strong legislative legacy, including passing the 22nd Amendment (limiting the president to two terms), putting restrictions on labor unions, passing a major tax cut, establishing the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency; and approved the Marshall Plan and aid to Greece and Turkey, starting the policy of containment during the Cold War.

This was one of just two separate occasions that Republicans controlled Congress in a period from 1931 until 1995.