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Thinking historically about the Dems’ chances to take U.S. House in 2014

REUTERS/Jason Reed
As of today, pending the outcome of the imminent special election in South Carolina, Dems need a net pickup of 17 seats to take over the House.

It’s way too soon to start obsessing on this stuff. But I was impressed with a careful (to the degree that any attempt to forecast election results a year and a half in advance can be careful) two-part look by Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics at the shape of the race for control of the U.S. House in 2014.

If you read the whole thing (part 1 here, part 2 here), you’ll learn quite a bit about midterm election history and see quite a bit of debunking, or at least de-hyping, of the “sixth-year-itch” narrative, which suggests that the president’s party usually gets clobbered in the midterm election of a president’s second term. Trende shows that this usually doesn’t happen if the president’s party already got clobbered in the midterm of the president’s first term, as happened to Obama and the Dems.

Trende also finds that the vast majority of House districts are already aligned between the party of the current representative, the party that carried the district in the 2012 presidential election and the party’s partisan lean as evaluated by those who obsessively evaluate districts for that purpose. Or, to let Trende explain that point:

There are only nine Democrats in districts Mitt Romney carried, and only 17 Republicans in districts Barack Obama carried. If we look at things in terms of Partisan Voting Index (how a party performs relative to national forces), there are only eight Republicans in districts with Democratic PVIs, and 15 Democrats in districts with Republican PVIs.

Obama’s approval ratings have recently hovered around 50 percent. The economy continues its agonizingly slow (but impressively steady) recovery. If either of those factors changed significantly, the outlook would also change in obvious ways. As of today, pending the outcome of the imminent special election in South Carolina, Dems need a net pickup of 17 seats to take over the House. Trende’s bottom line:

Somewhere between a five-seat Democratic pickup and a 15 seat Republican gain seems a safe prediction for now.

No way do I endorse this as a prediction, but I felt smarter after reading Trende debunk and historically contextualize a great many of the rules of thumb that one hears about midterms.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Chuck Johnson on 05/06/2013 - 02:20 pm.

    Cognitive Dissonance Much?

    Soon as Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, and the rest of the Democrat Senators busy selling their pending wars in Iran and Syria get their way it’s going to be a big time across the board public thumbs down on Obama’s legislative ticket. Of course if the Republicans want to screw it up, they are free to join the warmonger all the way to bankruptcy bandwagon.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/06/2013 - 04:46 pm.

    Historical or not

    If the Dems need to pick up 17 seats to control the House, and the best-case scenario for Dems that Trende can come up with is a 5-seat pickup, I’ll personally look forward to the remainder of Obama’s 2nd term being more of the same sort of drowning-in-quicksand while shouting-at-each-other that’s characterized Congress throughout the Obama tenure. Should his best-case-for-Democrats blow up and there be a 15-seat gain for the Repubs, it will only matter if Repubs also gain control of the Senate.

    Of late, the Repubs have been far more likely than their Dem cohorts to vote lock-step as a group, so even a small gain for Dems isn’t going to mean a significant increase in the likelihood of an Obama agenda or even a broader Dem agenda being enacted. In fact, I see little evidence that a slim majority in the Dems’ favor would change that outcome. Voters would have to engage in open rebellion against the entire Repub agenda and spectrum of candidates — itself a historic occasion if it happened — to put a large enough Dem majority in the House to actually get some things done. I don’t personally see that happening.

    The rhetoric I’ve heard so far from Repubs — acknowledging that it’s still very, very early in the process — sounds distressingly like the same reactionary tripe that’s had me voting for anyone except a Repub for the past several election cycles.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/07/2013 - 08:40 am.

    So what?

    When Democrats had the majority in both houses in Obama’s first two years they didn’t do anything with it anyways, they barely managed to get a health care law passed. Even when they have majorities like they currently do in the senate they can’t get anything done because they refused to roll back the filibuster.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/07/2013 - 03:30 pm.

    Doesn’t it matter any more

    which Democrats and which Republicans are elected in ’14? Or am I being naive to think that a moderates still exist in both parties who could win a seat?

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