What seems to be an abnormal number of Congress members mostly in the GOP announced voluntary retirement after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. I was unable to find another example of this strange situation occurring in US politics.

There appears to be many years where there's large turnover in Congress due to the election process, but I can't find another period in US history when this has occurred voluntarily.

Any political history buffs out there have any insight?

2 Answers 2


FiveThirtyEight has an article and a chart that shows congressional resignations from March 1901 through January 2018.


The list of congressional resignations in the above chart does not include those from January 2018 onwards. For a complete list of resignations that occurred during the 115th Congress (2017–2018), see Ballotpedia’s list.

There’s also a CSV file (Excel readable) from FiveThirtyEight that includes details for each member of Congress who resigned.

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    The image you provide seems useful, but doesn't appear to actually support the quote provided since the number is quite a lot lower than several other sessions shown. If the quote is discussing different information than what is shown in the chart then I think the chart is more distracting than useful. Jan 10, 2019 at 14:50
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    @KamilDrakari Ah, the quote actually refers to January 2018 (a year ago when this article/ image was published). I agree that it’s misleading and I’ve edited my post to remove it. Thanks for pointing out!
    – Panda
    Jan 10, 2019 at 14:53
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    The frequency and number of overturned elections before WWII is interesting.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Jan 10, 2019 at 15:01
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    What were the changes to pension that caused those massive resignations 40 years ago? Can we do something like that again to "drain the swap"?
    – Barmar
    Jan 10, 2019 at 17:47
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    @Mr.Mindor I asked a followup question about it. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/37838/… Jan 10, 2019 at 18:48

You will often see this happen under a couple of conditions -

1) The mid-term election after a President is elected and has a Congress of the same party in charge.

Generally, those mid-terms go against the sitting President. Whether it's greater complacency among the party in power's supporters, since they have that power, or greater motivation from the supporters of the party out of power, since they really are in the back seat, this seems to be a trend.

2) Members who were part of a "wave" election where a particular party did well in areas they demographically struggle are up for election, often without the coattails of a more popular national candidate.

In both cases, you will find a high percentage of those announcing their families suddenly need them more than before to have had toxic polling numbers that suggest they would be ousted either in the primary, or in the general election.

When those numbers take that turn, national PACS will also notice, and the problem will be exacerbated by them looking to spend their dollars in more competitive or winning efforts.

Sometimes it is the person wanting to retire, but quite often a lot of the people retiring see either an insurmountable or uphill battle, and throw in the towel.

As far as "why not just run and see if you can't pull it out" -

If someone has been in office long enough that the stink of being in Congress sticks to them, the electorate that initially put them their might still be inclined to elect a new face from the same party, thus having a better chance of the party protecting that seat.

It's also easier to cash in (if I may take a cynical turn on the subject) on the office when you're lining up your ducks while still in power and still have influence that potential future "employers" want to access, than if you go trounced and are looking for a job at that point.

The next election is going to be a national one, so there will be a national candidate to attach oneself to. Probably a lot of the ones who would either not benefit from being associated with Trump, or would be unwilling to try and ride that wave have already dropped out on the GOP side, for House races, and a lot of Democratic candidates foresee continued motivation for their voter base in the next Presidential election, so I doubt you'll see the kind of pre-determined attrition that you do in midterm election cycles. Though, in this case, there will be a lot more Senate seats that went red in the 2014 mid-term that they have to defend in the presidential cycle, so that would be the demographic I'd look at, if one was looking for this kind of trend.

  • Note - just looked at an electoral map for Senate seats in 2020. Though the GOP has many more seats to defend, the majority are in states that are very strongly "red" in their voting habits, so we probably won't see an exodus ahead of the elections unless events really sour loyal GOP supporters on their candidates, which is unlikely in our very entrenched, tribal political atmosphere, IMO. Jan 11, 2019 at 20:41

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