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February 13, 2014 1:40 PM The Likely No-Wave House Election

By Ed Kilgore

None of this should come as a particular surprise to people who have been looking at the November landscape objectively, but at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Emory’s Alan Abramowitz argues that the odds of either party making significant gains in the House this year are very limited.

The results of a simple but extremely accurate midterm election forecasting model indicate that the 2014 U.S. House elections are likely to result in minimal change in the party balance of power. The forecasting model uses three predictors — the current party balance of power in the House, the results of the last presidential election and the relative standing of the two parties on the generic ballot question, a national poll that asks voters which party they prefer in their local House race.

To boil it down quickly, Abramowitz shows there is very little Democratic “exposure” to additional House losses even if all the things conservatives hope will happen to public opinion (especially Obama’s approval ratings) come to pass. On the other hand, ancient midterm patterns and Obama’s relatively narrow 2012 win should be enough to dissipate Democratic dreams of a 2014 “wave” in their favor. And there are no signs yet in the congressional generic ballot indicating a popular-opinion “wave,” either.

In recent weeks, the generic ballot has shown results ranging from a Democratic lead of around six to seven points to a Republican lead of two to three points. According to the HuffPost Pollster polling average, the most recent results show a small Democratic advantage. Based on these results, the most likely outcome of the 2014 midterm election appears to be a very small gain for Republicans, although a similarly small gain for Democrats cannot be ruled out.
Democrats would need a very substantial lead on the pre-election generic ballot surveys, something in the vicinity of 12 to 14 points, to have a good chance of gaining the 17 House seats needed to regain control of the chamber. At this point, that appears highly unlikely — no nonpartisan poll in the past year has shown a double-digit Democratic lead on the generic ballot. Moreover, no party holding the White House has gained anywhere near 17 seats in a midterm election in the past century.

That’s not to say this November’s results don’t matter. They will create the landscape whereby Democrats should definitely have a shot at significant House gains in 2016 given the more favorable presidential electorate—or, Republicans hope, for the GOP sweep that will finally enable them to implement the radically conservative agenda the party’s activists have been praying for as they destroy any common ground between the two parties that could get in the way.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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