THE VIEW FROM HERE:


September 22, 2013


House Math for 2014.....What to expect when you're electing!


by Charles Schott

Republicans have a 33 seat majority in the U. S. House of Representatives, which means Democrats need to pick up 17 seats in the 2014 midterm elections to take control.

In the aftermath of 2012 (when the D's picked up eight seats), it looked like 2014 would be about the House.  The sense was that a successful Obama campaign organization would turn its attention to House and Senate races in 2014, so as to give the President one last chance to complete a legislative legacy.  See http://egopnews.com/Schott_13March12.htm.

President Obama's performance since his 2012 re-election, however, has made it more likely that 2014 will be a traditional midterm election with the party not holding the White House picking up seats.  On that basis, the Republicans seem poised to add to their 33 seat margin.

CURRENT PROJECTION

The Cook Political Report confirms this in its September 5 assessment:

  • The assessment identifies only 10 races as "toss ups" (9 of which are held by D incumbents) where either party has a good chance of winning; interestingly, all 9 of those D's are listed as freshman, something you would expect given presidential coattails in 2012.
  • This is supplemented by 26 additional seats seen as competitive and which are held by incumbents in districts that lean slightly toward the incumbents' party (i.e., 15 D incumbents in D leaning districts and 11 R incumbents in R leaning districts). 
  • Thus 36 seats are currently seen by Cook as competitive with only 12 of these currently held by Republicans (24 by Democrats).
  • Beyond that there are 31 additional seats that currently are not seen as competitive, but which the Cook Political Report concludes have the potential to become competitive (i.e., 14 D incumbents in D likely districts and 17 R incumbents in R likely districts).  Again, interestingly 8 of the 14 D incumbents are listed as freshmen while only 2 of the R incumbents are so listed.

This results in a total of 68 seats viewed as "contestable" (i.e., "toss ups" + leaning + likely) of which 38 are D's and 29 are R's.  See http://cookpolitical.com/house/charts/race-ratings.

To pick up a net of 17 (and re-take the House), the D's would need to win 55 of these 68 races identified as being "contestable." 

Put another way, the D's could win all of the currently competitive races (i.e., "toss ups" + leaning) and still only pick up a net gain of 12 (falling 5 seats short of the 17 needed).

Another respected source, the Sabato Crystal Ball, published by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia contains similar analysis.  See http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/house-update-running-to-stand-still/.  It concludes that neither the R's or D's are positioned to make major gains in the House in 2014 and that Republicans are "slightly likelier to net a tiny gain." 

The interesting addition to the discussion is linking the likely midterm election outcome to polling on the "congressional generic ballot" a year from now.  It projects Republicans will gain seats up to the point where the D's have a +2% favorable rating (see Table V below).

The main good news for the D's here is that these numbers will continue to evolve as we get closer to November 2014 and the number of competitive races could increase.  The good news for the R's is that in a traditional midterm election, the party not holding the White House will normally gain seats (i.e., the numbers could continue to evolve in their direction).

THE CONGRESSIONAL PLAYING FIELD

The Cook Political Report also documents how the current Congressional playing field favors Republicans.  It notes how Mitt Romney carried 226 House districts as compared to President Obama's 209.  It also notes how D House candidates managed to receive 1.4 million more votes nationally than was received by R candidates, even as the R's won more districts (giving them their 33 vote House majority).

Counter-intuitively, the Cook Political Report  documents how this is more a result of "geographical self-sorting" than of redistricting, although both play a role.

Significantly, over the last fifteen years these developments have substantially reduced the number of "competitive-range" districts by 45%; i.e., from 164 in 1998 to only 90 in 2013.

See http://cookpolitical.com/story/5604,

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Finally, the history of House midterm elections is interesting in this context.  It is understood that off year elections generally favor the party not holding the White House.  What is not as well understood is that second midterms (particularly those held when the President has been in office six years or more) are an even steeper hill to climb for the incumbent President's party.

The numbers illuminate this.  There have been 27 House midterm elections held since 1902.  In those elections, the average loss of House seats has been 32 for the party holding the White House (the median loss has been 28 seats). 

The six year midterm average loss of 35 seats is only 3 seats higher than it is for all midterms.  The median for six year midterm elections, however, is a loss of 39 seats (a loss 11 seats higher than the median for first mid-terms).

The range of House midterm outcomes is also important.  For all second term midterms, the party holding the White House has lost as many as 81 seats.  More significantly, in no midterm election has the incumbent President's party picked up more than 9 seats (and in no second midterm more than 5).  Compare this to the 17 the D's need to reach a majority.  See Tables I-IV and the Summary Table below.

So if President Obama still plans on re-taking the House, something unusual will have to happen.


SUMMARY TABLE


NUMBER OF HOUSE SEATS LOST BY INCUMBENT PRESIDENT'S PARTY DURING MIDTERM ELECTIONS (1902-2010)

                                                              Mean            Median         Range

First Term Incumbents (16)                    31.6                24.5             76 - (gain of 9)

All Midterms (27)                                    32.3                28                81 - (gain of 9)

All Second Term Incumbents (12)          33.2                31                81 - (gain of 5)

Second term Incumbents                       34.6                39                81 - (gain of 5)
(6 yrs or more only) (8)


Source: Wikipedia


THE IMPLICATIONS

As previously noted, there are essentially three possible outcomes for President Obama and his party following the 2014 election:
  • D's take control of the House.  If the D's flip the House and keep the Senate, President Obama should be able to pass a good portion of his remaining legislative wish list;
  • No change in control of either house.  If the D's do not flip control of the House but manage to keep control of the Senate, then the current level of gridlock and frustration is likely to continue;
  • R's take control of the Senate.  If the D's fail to take control of the House and also lose the Senate, then the President becomes a very lame (i.e., crippled) duck and the Administration's last two years will likely be very difficult.

The significance of the above data is that the most likely scenario is for the R's to continue to hold the House in 2014 (possibly adding to their majority).  A similar analysis for the Senate races indicates that while the R's also have a path to take control of the Senate in 2014, the odds of that happening are less than 50-50.  See http://egopnews.com/Schott_13August15.htm.

Taken together, this makes the most likely prospect for President Obama's last two years to be a classic lame duck scenario.

That said, it is important to appreciate that the savants in the President's political operation are working hard to find a wedge issue (or issues) that will not only divide Republicans from each other, but which are important to the average otherwise uncommitted voter.  The only good news for the R's is that these kinds of issues you can usually see coming (such as the debt-ceiling or a government shut down) and that the decision to engage on them is typically in Republican hands.

The D's are also subject to their own vulnerabilities, including potential fallout from Obamacare implementation, the continuing bad economy or further perceived foreign policy ineptitude.

In short, it now appears likely to be an "either/or" situation; where the traditional "either" of R gains as the "out party" is substantially more likely than an unprecedented "or" scenario that depends on current House R's being unable to resist a temptation to self-destruct. 

It will be interesting to see if anyone takes the bait.


Charles Schott served in the last three Republican administrations and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the George W. Bush Administration.  Earlier articles appear at http://egopnews.com/schottarchives.htm.  He can be reached at csandassoc@gmail.com.



TABLES

I. All midterm elections since 1902:

TABLE FOR SHIFTS IN HOUSE SEATS IN MID-TERM ELECTIONS IN FAVOR OF PARTY NOT HOLDING THE WHITE HOUSE (1902-2010)

House Midterm Results (1902-2010).  Since 1902, the following swings toward the party not occupying the White House have occurred in House mid-term elections:

>60 seats - four times: 1938 (R's +81); 1922 (D's +76); 2010 (R's +63); 1914 (R's +62)
>50 seats - four times: 1910 (D's +58); 1946 (R's +54); 1994 (R's +54); 1930 (D's +52)
>40 seats - four times: 1958 (D's +49); 1974 (D's +49); 1942 (R's +47); 1966 (R's +47)
>30 seats - one time: 2006 (D's +31)
>20 seats - four times: 1950 (R's +28); 1902 (D's +25)*; 1918 (R's +25); 1982 (D's +24)
>10 seats - three times: 1954 (D's +19); 1978 (R's +15); 1970 (D's +12)
>0 seats - four times: 1926 (D's +9); 1990 (D's +7); 1986 (D's +5); 1962 (R's +2)
<0 seats - three times: 1998 (D's +5); 2002 (R's +8); 1934 (D's +9)

Total Mid-term elections since 1902: 27
Average swing: 32
Median swing in mid-term elections since 1902: 28 seats
Source: Wikipedia

* The size of the House was expanded in 1902 from 355 to 386 members.  The D's gained 25 seats and the R's gained 7, with the D's gaining a net of 18 seats.


II. Midterms held during a President's first term:


TABLE FOR SHIFTS IN HOUSE SEATS IN MID-TERM ELECTIONS DURING PRESIDENT'S FIRST TERM IN FAVOR OF THE PARTY NOT HOLDING THE WHITE HOUSE (1902-2010)


>60 seats - three times: 1922 (D's +76); 2010 (R's +63); 1914 (R's +62)
>50 seats - four times: 1910 (D's +58); 1946 (R's +54); 1994 (R's +54); 1930 (D's +52)
>40 seats - none
>30 seats - none
>20 seats - two times: 1902 (D's +25)*; 1982 (D's +24)
>10 seats - three times: 1954 (D's +19); 1978 (R's +15); 1970 (D's +12)
>0 seats - two times: 1990 (D's +7); 1962 (R's +2)
<0 seats - two times: 2002 (R's +8); 1934 (D's +9)

Total First Mid-term elections since 1902: 16 of 27
Average swing: 32 seats
Median swing in mid-term elections since 1902: 24-25 seats
Source: Wikipedia


III. Midterms held during a President's second or third term:


TABLE FOR SHIFTS IN HOUSE SEATS IN MID-TERM ELECTIONS DURING A PRESIDENT'S SECOND OR THIRD TERMS (INCLUDING SECOND TERMS OF PRESIDENTS WHO BECAME PRESIDENT DUE TO DEATH OF THEIR PREDECESSOR) IN FAVOR OF PARTY NOT HOLDING THE WHITE HOUSE (1902-2010)



>60 seats - one time: 1938 (R's +81);
>50 seats - none
>40 seats - four times: 1958 (D's +49); 1974 (D's +49); 1942 (R's +47); 1966 (R's +47)
>30 seats - one time: 2006 (D's +31)
>20 seats - two times: 1950 (R's +28); 1918 (R's +25)
>10 seats - none
>0 seats - two times: 1926 (D's +9); 1986 (D's +5)
<0 seats - one time: 1998 (D's +5)

Total second Mid-term elections since 1902: 11 out of 27
Average swing: 33 seats
Median swing in mid-term elections since 1902: 31 seats
Source: Wikipedia


IV. Midterms held during the sixth year (or later) of a President's time in office:


TABLE FOR SHIFTS IN HOUSE SEATS IN MID-TERM ELECTIONS DURING A PRESIDENT'S SECOND OR THIRD TERMS (NOT INCLUDING SECOND TERMS OF PRESIDENTS WHO BECAME PRESIDENT DUE TO DEATH OF THEIR PREDECESSOR) IN FAVOR OF THE PARTY NOT HOLDING THE WHITE HOUSE (1902-2010)

>60 seats - one time: 1938 (R's +81);
>50 seats - none
>40 seats - three times: 1958 (D's +49); 1974 (D's +49); 1942 (R's +47)
>30 seats - one time: 2006 (D's +31)
>20 seats - one time: 1918 (R's +25)
>10 seats - none
>0 seats - one time: 1986 (D's +5)
<0 seats - one time: 1998 (D's +5)

Total Mid-term elections since 1902: 8 out of 27
Average swing: 35
seats
Median swing in mid-term elections since 1902: 39-40 seats
Source: Wikipedia


V. Currently projected gains for Republicans in the House given possible variations in the results of November 2014 polling for the generic Congressional ballot:

                         Generic                                Predicted GOP
                     House Ballot                              Seat Change

                           R+8%                                             +19

                           R+6%                                             +16

                           R+4%                                             +12

                           R+2%                                              +9

                            Tie                                                  +6

                           D+2%                                              +2

                           D+4%                                               -1

                           D+6%                                               -5

                           D+8%                                               -8


Source: Sabato Crystal Ball, Center for Politics, University of Virginia (see http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/house-update-running-to-stand-still/).



INFORMATION TABLE

INCUMBENT PRESIDENTS IN OFF-YEAR ELECTIONS FOR SECOND TERM OF A PRESIDENCY OR LATER (1900-2006)

1906 (TR) (*)
1918 (Wilson)
1926 (Coolidge) (*)
1938 (FDR)
1942 (FDR)
1950 (Truman) (*)
1958 (Eisenhower)
1966 (LBJ) (*)
1986 (Reagan)
1998 (Clinton)
2006 (Bush)

(*) Assumed Presidency from Vice Presidency as a result of predecessor dying in office.






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