I wrote before that I was predicting the most closely-divided Congress in history to be seated this January. But a little research reveals that, in fact, that is not possible. It would not be possible to get closer results than the Seventy-Second Congress, which was elected in 1930 and sat from 1931 to 1932, which will hold the record for the most closely-divided Congress for all of American history.
Recall that the Great Depression began in mid-1929, and so the national economy was in a terrible downslide. Recall that Herbert Hoover was President, and the very unhappy economy was a primary cause for the uncharismatic Hoover's increasing unpopularity. The Republicans' commanding majority in both the House and the Senate evaporated.
The result of the House elections in 1930 was as follows:
Republicans: 218 seats
Democrats: 216 seats
Farmer-Labor: 1 seat
The lone representative from the Minnesota Farmer-Labor party caucused with the Democrats, and indeed the two parties later merged. But, for the majority of the Congress, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. By November 24, 1931, two Republican incumbents had died and special elections were held that resulted in those seats being taken over by Democrats, leaving the seat count at:
Democrats: 218 seats
Republicans: 216 seats
Farmer-Labor: 1 seat
Michael Barone tells the story here; it is quaint in that it shows a high degree of concordance and bipartisan respect between the Republican initially elected speaker (Nicholas Longworth of Ohio) and the Democrat who replaced him in mid-session (John Nance Garner of Texas, who went on to become Vice-President of the United States). It's too bad that kind of bipartisanship has all but vanished in this polarized age; we're supposed to be happy that the party leaders are civil to one another.
On the Senate side, the result of the election left this balance of power:
Republicans: 50 seats
Democrats: 49 seats
Farmer-Labor: 1 seat (caucusing with Democrats)
So, keeping in mind that the Farmer-Labor party was basically a one-state populist wing of the Democrats, we see that in 1931, the Senate was evenly split and the House controlled by a single vote -- a vote which changed during the session of Congress.
We might tie that result tonight (or rather, over the course of the next week; some races simply will not be called tonight and those will determine the balance of power) but the 1930 elections sent to Washington a Congress divided as mathematically close to an even split as is theoretically possible.
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