Historically, the first congressional election (a midterm) in a new president’s first term has been rough on the incumbent’s political party. 

In 2010, Barack Obama’s first midterm election, Democrats lost 63 House and 6 Senate seats. In his midterm election in 2018, Donald Trump’s Republicans lost 40 House seats but gained two in the Senate.

It’s history like this which has Joe Biden’s co-partisans in the House and Senate nervous about the 2022 midterms. Yes, there’s a huge amount of time between now and 2022. But there are a few things worth watching right now that will affect those elections.

One of the biggest: data from the 2020 census showing the Northeast and Midwest continuing to loose population – and political clout – to the West and South. Texas and Florida, long essential to Republican political strategies in the House and the presidency, gain more power, while 2020 battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania continue to lose ground.

Those shifting populations mean shifting congressional and state legislative districts. Democrats have a narrow six-member majority in the House majorities right now. Losing ground in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Republican legislatures will draw new House district lines, puts fresh pressure on Democratic incumbents. 

The other big item to watch: Democratic retirements:

The exodus comes as the party struggles to maintain or extend the narrowest congressional majority in decades — six seats, which will grow to seven in coming days as a newly elected Democrat, Troy Carter from Louisiana, is sworn in.

Democrats have little margin for error to keep control, even as they simultaneously will be working against a redistricting cycle that is likely to favor Republican officeholders.

The Democratic departures are likely to make it easier for sometimes-partisan mapmakers to draw maps that favor Republican pickups.

Again, there’s a long time between now and the 2022 elections. New House lines aren’t set, and the retirement wave may just be getting started. But watch both items closely – they will tell us a lot about how the 2022 elections will unfold, and which races will decide who controls the House, the Senate, and the fate of Joe Biden’s $6 trillion government expansion.