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It’s not likely, but here’s how Democrats could take over the U.S. House

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Democrats would have to win the overall national race for House seats by about 6 percentage points — possibly even more — to take control.

As I mentioned last week, the conventional wisdom among the political supergeeks who rate every U.S. House race in the country is that because there are so many safe red districts, it is extremely unlikely that Democrats could win control of the House in 2014.

On top of the “map” problem, the party controlling the White House usually loses seats in midterm elections.

On top of that, Republicans have a sort of permanent edge in midterms because, in general, Republicans do better in low-turnout elections and midterms are always lower-turnout elections than presidential-year elections.

On the other hand, the current shutdown/debt limit crisis seems to be hurting the Republican brand overall. Who knows how much damage the overall party reputation could take and still survive as the majority in the House? The answer to that is no one (except maybe The Shadow) knows. But writing for the Princeton Election Consortium, political numbers geek Sam Wang believes control of the House could be in play. Just could, not will.

Overcoming map problem

In order to overcome the map problem, Wang calculates that Democrats would have to win the overall national race for House seats by about 6 percentage points — possibly even more — to take control. That’s a lot; more than President Obama won by over Mitt Romney (4 points), and much more than the 1.5 percentage points by which Democrats won the overall 435-House-races-mooshed-together vote in 2012.

Then Wang crunches some numbers from a poll by Public Policy Polling for MoveOn.org. Yes, MoveOn is a partisan organization, so add some salt. But Wang gets an overall Democratic advantage of 12 points. I don’t vouch for the math, although the L.A. Times noted that Wang’s final projection of Obama’s 51.1 percent popular vote in 2012 was on the money. I also note Wang’s day job is neuroscience (at Princeton).

All that said, Wang’s analysis of the recent PPP poll is that Democrats lead in House races by a combined 12 percent. That’s a big number and very likely would be enough overcome the map problem, the turnout problem and the midterm-of-a-Dem-president problem.

I wouldn’t take it too serious, and neither does Wang, writing for Princeton Election Consortium that:

Since the election is over a year away, it is hard to predict how this will translate to future seat gain/loss. If the election were held today, Democrats would pick up around 30 seats, giving them control of the chamber. I do not expect this to happen. Many things will happen in the coming 12 months, and the current crisis might be a distant memory. But at this point I do expect Democrats to pick up seats next year, an exception to the midterm rule.

Note that in these calculations I did not even include the worst of the news for Republicans. In a followup series of questions, PPP then told respondents that their representative voted for the shutdown. At that point, the average swing moved a further 3.1% toward Democrats, and 22 out of 24 points were in the gray zone. That would be more like a 50-seat gain for Democrats — equivalent to a wave election. An analyst would have to be crazy to predict that! However, it seems like mandatory information for a Democratic campaign strategist — or any Republican incumbent who won by less than 20 points in 2012.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/10/2013 - 12:46 pm.

    Hard to argue

    …that the scenario is “not likely.” Much as I’d like to see Tea Partiers live without the assistance of the government they profess to loathe, while they do damage to the country they profess to love, I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for the election of dozens of Democrats, or even sensible Republicans (lately an oxymoronic term) to take their place.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/10/2013 - 01:20 pm.

    As long as there are Republicans

    in their current mode
    there is hope!

  3. Submitted by Lora Jones on 10/10/2013 - 01:29 pm.

    I followed some of the PEC stats and Wang’s

    writings leading up to the 2012 election, and would heartily recommend them to anyone who isn’t forced by their “conservative” confirmation bias into relying on “unskewed” territory.

    Like Wang, and you, I agree it’s awfully early on to make any prediction, other than that the dems chances of picking up seats are better today than they were 2 weeks ago, before the House Republicans threw their tantrum.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/10/2013 - 04:14 pm.

    Past is not future

    The only way you can assume that republicans can’t lose if you assume that nothing matters. No matter how crazy they are or how unpopular they are (congressional favorability is down to 5%), they can’t lose. The shutdown is irrelevant, and won’t motivate angry midterm voters. No one cares about the debt ceiling or anything else. That just doesn’t make any sense. The house and senate do change hands every so often so you can’t just the ones with an advantage will always win. I don’t think the Wang scenario is at all unlikely.

  5. Submitted by Joe Loveland on 10/10/2013 - 04:33 pm.

    About the polling firm

    There are at least two important things that are fair to point out about Pulbic Policy Polling (PPP).

    1) As Mr. Black noted, PPP had a partisan client in the poll that underpins Wang’s analysis, and they do indeed intentionally work with left leaning organizations and candidates.

    2) But it’s also important to note that PPP was the most accurate pollster in the heavily polled 2012 presidential race.

    It’s fair to wonder if PPP’s liberal clientele make it prone to liberal-friendly findings. But while weighing that factor, it’s important to note that such bias didn’t play out in the 2012 battle of pollsters.

  6. Submitted by Joe Loveland on 10/10/2013 - 04:34 pm.

    About the polling firm

    There are at least two important things that are fair to point out about Pulbic Policy Polling (PPP).

    1) As Mr. Black noted, PPP had a partisan client in the poll that underpins Wang’s analysis, and they do indeed intentionally work with left leaning organizations and candidates.

    2) But it’s also important to note that PPP was the most accurate pollster in the heavily polled 2012 presidential race.

    It’s fair to wonder if PPP’s liberal clientele make it prone to liberal-friendly findings. But while weighing that factor, it’s important to note that such bias didn’t play out in the 2012 battle of pollsters.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/polls/266615-study-finds-ppp-kos-the-most-accurate-pollsters-in-2012

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/14/2013 - 10:04 am.

    Getting more likely

    by the minute!

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