A House Divided
Over here at Logarchism, we’ve been concentrating on the Presidential race and Senate races. In large part, this is because we’re a data-driven group of bloggers, and there isn’t much polling data on House races.
Today, I’ll take our first look at House races, and if there’s interest, we’ll make it a regular (perhaps monthly) feature. I’m using the Cook Political Report’s Competitive House Race chart (last updated August 2) as my guide. There are similar ratings from other political scientists, for example Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball (last updated July 11), The New York Times (last updated date unclear) and the National Journal’s Hotline (updated July 18).
The elections for the 111th Congress took place in November 2008. The House of Representatives in the 111th Congress ended with 255 Democrats and 179 Republicans, with one Republican vacancy (shown in white on the chart).
The elections for the 112th Congress took place in November, 2010. In that election, 193 Democrats and 242 Republicans were elected. Thus, the 2010 elections resulted in a loss of 62 Democratic seats, with the Republicans gaining by the same amount, of course.
The House now stands at 191 Democrats, 240 Republicans, with four vacant seats (two from each party).
Based on the Cook Political Report rankings, here’s a graphic showing the recent historical distribution of the House, and how the House races are currently rated by Cook:
Cook Political Report rates 91 competitive races: 13 races as “Likely Democratic” and 12 races as “Lean Democratic”. They rate 25 more races as “tossup”, 19 as “Lean Republican” and 22 as “Likely Republican”. That leaves 156 Democratic seats that Cook considers “safe” (by exclusion) and 188 “safe” Republican seats.
According to Cook, a slightly larger proportion of Republican as Democratic seats are rated as “competitive”: 37⁄193 (19 percent) of Democratic seats are rated “competitive” vs. 54⁄242 (22 percent) of Republican seats.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates 84 competitive races: 10 races are rated as “Likely Democratic”, 20 as “Lean Democratic”, 16 as “tossup”, 23 as “Lean Republican” and 15 as “Likely Republican”.
The New York Times rates 81 competitive races, but does not distinguish between “Likely” and “Lean”. They list 26 seats as “Democratic”, 22 as “tossups” and 33 as “Republican”.
Since the Cook Political Report’s rankings are slightly more conservative than Sabato’s, and more detailed than the New York Times’s, I’ve used the Cook report as my guide.
The Democrats need a pickup of 25 seats to regain the majority. Historically, that’s unlikely. Since the Second World War, there have been ten elections in which a sitting President was running for reëlection. In 1948, the Democrats gained 75 seats; in 1956, Republicans lost two seats; in 1964, Democrats gained 37 (but Johnson was still presumably benefiting from his post-Kennedy assassination popularity); in 1972, Republicans gained 12; in 1976, Republicans lost one and Ford lost his reëlection bid; in 1980, Democrats lost 15 and Carter lost the election; in 1984, Republicans gained 16; in 1992, Republicans gained nine and George H.W. Bush lost; in 1996, Democrats gained two; and in 2004, Republicans gained three.
The last year the incumbent President’s party gained a significant number of seats in a wave was 1948. (I’m ignoring 1964 because Johnson in many ways benefited politically from the rallying of support after President John Kennedy’s assassination the year before, and because the accompanying Presidential election was a landslide.) Interestingly, that year, Harry Truman won a narrow victory over Thomas Dewey by campaigning against a “do-nothing Congress”. We don’t know what Congress’s approval rating was in 1948. We do know that Congress’s approval (as measured by Gallup) fell to a historical low of ten percent in February and rebounded (as does a dead cat) to 16 percent in July.
In order to pick up 25 seats, Democrats would have to win all their current “Likely” and “Leans” seats (four of which are currently Republican), win all nine of their current “tossups”, take all 16 Republican-held tossups, and chip off eight Republican-held “Leans Republican” seats just to gain a bare majority in the 113th Congress. (There are three Democratic-held “Likely Republican” seats: Arkansas’s 4th, and North Carolina’s 11th and 13th, that appear lost to the Democrats no matter what.) That means taking seats with a Cook Partisan Voting Index as great as R+4.
That’s a tall order. Accordingly, both Intrade and the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) rate that outcome as unlikely, although not prohibitively so. Both futures markets have the “Democrats control House after 2012 election” contract at a 15 percent probability.
(Full disclosure: I currently have 300 shares of the IEM contract for Democratic control of the House. I would personally put the likelihood of the Democrats benefiting from a medium wave election at about 25 percent, so I’ve bought the IEM shares I hold because I think the contract is undervalued.)
At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, editor Kyle Kondik’s best guess is for a Democratic gain of six seats.
Where would you put the probability of a Democratic House takeover?
If either party gains only a slight majority after the election, would that be a prescription for more gridlock?
Is there any plausible scenario under which Congress may actually accomplish something and raise its abysmal approval rating?
- Republicans Outraising Democratic Rivals in House Races (bloomberg.com)
- Hand-to-Hand Combat for Control of the House (nytimes.com)
- State results dim Dems’ hopes for House takeover (sfgate.com)
- How safe is the GOP House majority? (politico.com)
- Republicans expected to keep the House (prairieweather.typepad.com)
- N.Y. becomes unexpected battleground for House (politico.com)
- Safe House (powerlineblog.com)