Saturday, October 12, 2013

Democratic Takeover of the House Unlikely But Within Reach

Based on the latest voter survey data from Quinnipiac, I have been able to produce some estimates of voter congressional preference by state. The data show, if the election were held today, most states are leaning Democratic. Public opinion suggests the Democrats will have some opportunities to pick up seats in the midterms.

Voter Congressional Preference
Dark blue = +15% Democratic; Medium blue = 5-10% Democratic; Light blue = 0-5% Democratic
Dark red = +15% Republican; Medium red = 5-10% Republican; Light red = 0-5% Republican

What remains unclear is whether the Democrats can retake the House. A state-by-state, district-by-district analysis indicates this outcome is unlikely but possible. Below is a summary of districts that could be in contention in 2014, based on the polling data.

Potential Democratic Gains - 53 seats

California - 6 seats (Projected statewide vote: 23% D)

Believe it or not, the Republicans still control quite a few seats in California. This leaves them vulnerable to substantial Democratic gains.

Seats in contention: CA10 (Jeff Denham), CA21 (David Valadoa), CA25 (Buck McKeon), CA31 (Gary Miller), CA39 (Ed Royce), and CA49 (Darrell Issa).

New York - 5 seats (Projected statewide vote: 31% D)

The Republicans only hold six seats in New York, but New York is so heavily Democratic that many of these seats are vulnerable in a Democratic wave.

Seats in contention: NY2 (Peter King), NY11 (Michael Grimm), NY19 (Christopher Gibson), NY22 (Richard Hanna), and NY23 (Tom Reed).

Pennsylvania - 5 seats (15% D)

The Republicans did a good job of gerrymandering this state. They hold 13 out of 18 seats in a state that leans Democratic. However, they should have some concern if voter preference breaks substantially in favor of the Democrats, since several Republic districts mainly contain moderate suburbs. No wonder Charlie Dent seems so worried.

Seats in contention: PA6 (Jim Gerlach), PA7 (Patrick Meehan), PA8 (Michael Fitzpatrick), PA15 (Charles Dent), and PA16 (Joseph Pitts).

Michigan - 5 seats (14% D)

Similar to Pennsylvania, 9 out of 14 seats are Republican in a Democratic leaning state. This gerrymandering feat gives the Democrats plenty of opportunities.

Seats in contention: MI3 (Justin Amash), MI6 (Fred Upton), MI7 (Tim Walberg), MI8 (Mike Rogers), and MI11 (Kerry Bentivolio).

Virginia - 5 seats (12% D)

Virginia is trending Democratic, contains a large number of federal workers, and elected a disproportionate number of Republicans (8 out of 11) in the last election. That's a recipe for disaster for the GOP. As many as five Republican incumbents could lose due to a shutdown backlash.

Seats in contention: VA1 (Bob Whitman), VA2 (Scott Rigell), VA4 (Randy Forbes), VA5 (Robert Hurt), and VA10 (Frank Wolf).

Florida - 4 seats (8% D) Gerrymandering in Florida is not as lopsided as other states. 17 out of 27 states are Republican in a state that is essentially 50/50. Still, the sheer size of Florida and trending demographics leaves the Democrats with a few opportunities.

Seats in contention: FL7 (John Mica), FL13 (Bill Young), FL25 (Mario Diaz-Balart), and FL27 (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).

Illinois - 4 seats (15% D) This state is Democratic and gerrymandered in favor of the same party. Six Republicans remain in the delegation and several should be worried about reelection.

Seats in contention: IL6 (Peter Roskam), IL13 (Rodney Davis), IL14 (Randy Hultgren) and IL16 (Adam Kinzinger).

New Jersey - 3 seats (22% D)

New Jersey is a heavily Democratic state with an equally split delegation. A few Republicans may lose in a Democratic year.

Seats in contention: NJ2 (Frank Lobiondo), NJ3 (John Runyan), and NJ5 (Scott Garrett).

Wisconsin - 3 seats (12% D) Republicans hold 5 out of 8 seats. A few could easily flip to the Democrats in this purple state.

Seats in contention: WI1 (Paul Ryan), WI7 (Sean Duffy), and WI8 (Reid Ribble).

Ohio - 2 seats (8% D)

The Republicans masterfully gerrymandered this purple state to take 12 out of 16 seats. Ohio is just red enough for this majority to be more durable than the Republican delegations in PA and MI. However, the Democrats will still have a few opportunities to pick up some seats.

Seats in contention: OH10 (Michael Turner) and OH14 (David Joyce).

Minnesota - 2 seats (15% D)

Minnesota is one of the few states with little gerrymandering. As a result, a strong Democratic election could lead to an overwhelmingly lopsided delegation in this bluish-purplish state.

Seats in contention: MN2 (John Kline) and MN3 (Erik Paulsen).

Iowa - 2 seats (8% D)

Same as MN.

Seats in contention: IA3 (Tom Latham) and IA4 (Steve King).

Colorado - 2 seats (14% D)

Seats in contention: CO3 (Scott Tipton) and CO6 (Mike Coffman).

Washington - 2 seats (17% D)

Seats in contention: WA3 (Jaime Beutler) and WA8 (David Reichert).

Other seats: NV3 (Joseph Heck), IN2 (Jackie Walorski), and NE2 (Lee Terry).

Potential Republican Gains - 4 seats

GA12 (John Barrow), NC7 (Mike McIntyre), WV3 (Nick Rahall) and UT4 (Jim Matheson).

The Bottom Line

Few Democrats represent truly Republican-leaning districts. In the south and midwest, most Democrats in red districts were defeated in 2010 and 2012. Hence, if the Democrats carry momentum into the 2014 election, only a small handful of Democrats will be beatable. On the other hand, as many as 50 or so Republicans represent suburban districts in which they could be defeated in a Democratic wave. This fact leaves open the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the House.

Nevertheless, this outcome is made unlikely by several factors. First, one cannot assume the Democrats will maintain their momentum. An election without Democratic momentum will likely lead to little change in the House. Second, many of the 50 seats up for grabs will not switch parties. Only a handful of the above districts held by Republicans voted for Obama in 2012. Moreover, about half of these districts lean Republican by at least four or five points. Such an advantage will be difficult for the Democrats to overcome, even in a wave year. Hence, if the shutdown results in persistent difficulties for the Republicans, the most likely outcome is a very close split in the House. An actual takeover by the Democrats seems to be possible (maybe even plausible), but not likely.