Wave watch: It's Trump vs. the economy

Data: Historical changes in House seats from the American Presidency Project, approval ratings from FiveThirtyEight, and views of the economy from AGC Research LLC. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Here's why it's so hard to predict whether Republicans will actually lose the House in November: It depends whether the election turns on President Trump's low approval ratings or the booming economy.

Between the lines: As this interactive graphic shows, the party in power tends to do well in the House during midterm elections when voters are happy with the economy, but it does poorly when the president's approval rating is low. There's no recent precedent in which the economy is doing well but the president's approval rating is underwater.

What they're saying: I asked Darrell West of the Brookings Institution his thoughts on these trends:

  • “Generally, it’s been 'the economy, stupid,' that’s been the major issue. But this year it could be, 'It’s Trump, stupid.' Because Trump just dominates everything. He dominates news coverage, he dominates social media activities. He’s a very inviting target for Democrats.”
  • “Generally, there’s a strong tie between the state of the economy and presidential approval ratings, but it's not true in regard to Trump because many people simply don’t like him personally."

The bottom line: Anyone who talks about the election as if it's only about Trump, or only about the economy, is only telling you half the story. We won't really know what's going to happen with the House until we know which half matters the most to the voters.

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