I am making a (not so bold) prediction: the Republican Party will take back the House in November. The days of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will end next year.
Back in April, FiveThirtyEight, a Democratic-leaning but still valuable polling site, looked at the generic ballot measure to predict a possible 50-seat loss for the Democrats. Here’s how pollster Nate Silver explained it:
So, for example, if the House popular vote were exactly tied, we’d expect the Democrats to lose “only” 30 seats on average, which would be enough for them to retain majority control. It would take about a 2.5 point loss in the popular vote for them to be as likely as not to lose control of the chamber. So Democrats probably do have a bit of a cushion: this is the good news for them.
Their bad news is that the House popular vote (a tabulation of the actual votes all around the country) and the generic ballot (an abstraction in the form of a poll) are not the same thing — and the difference usually tends to work to Democrats’ detriment. Although analysts debate the precise magnitude of the difference, on average the generic ballot has overestimated the Democrats’ performance in the popular vote by 3.4 points since 1992. If the pattern holds, that means that a 2.3-point deficit in generic ballot polls would translate to a 5.7 point deficit in the popular vote — which works out to a loss of 51 seats, according to our regression model.
Back in April, the GOP had only a narrow lead in the popular vote. As of today, the Republicans have an average lead of 4.5 on the generic ballot measure. In October 1994, just before the historic 1994 GOP sweep that netted the GOP 54 seats, the generic ballot measure was tied according to Gallup.
What does this mean? If the GOP actually has a 4.5% advantage on the generic ballot, we can use Nate Silver’s historical model to predict the GOP’s possible gains. Adding 3.4% to that 4.5% lead yields us a 7.9% GOP lead in the national popular vote. By Silver’s methodology, that would equate to GOP gains of around 60 House seats.
The GOP currently need 39 House seats to retake the majority, assuming no GOP losses. There are a handful of vulnerable GOP House seats, but even with those, a swing of 60 seats would be more than enough for the Republicans to take the House.
As always, there are some objections to this model. Critics of the generic ballot point out that individual races aren’t between “Generic Republican” and “Generic Democrat.” That is, of course, true. But ultimately, the generic ballot measure does give an accurate prediction as to overall results. Now, in order to get something more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation, you have to fit the data to accommodate the makeup of the various Congressional districts. But this year, the Democrats are defending a lot more Republican-leaning districts than in past years. Even when the data is fitted (which FiveThirtyEight is doing now), it’s likely that a GOP takeover of the House will still happen.
There’s also the question of whether these numbers are still good. Has the electorate changed dramatically since previous elections, due to demographic shifts? Possibly, but this election will not be like 2008. The young and minority voters that helped lift Obama into office are not nearly as energized as they were two years ago. They’ve gone back to their traditional voting habits. Midterm elections do not tend to look like big Presidential election years—and if the Democrats are counting on the Obama coalition to materialize now, they’re going to be disappointed.
Finally, there’s the argument that the Tea Party will alienate moderates and help the Democrats. That’s certainly what the left want to believe, but so far it hasn’t happened. The one race where that’s a factor is Nevada’s Senate contest between Sharron Angle and Harry Reid. Angle is, to be honest, a lousy candidate, but one that’s learning as she goes. That race went from a sure-fire GOP pickup to a toss-up, but it’s not in the bag for Reid either. The Tea Party isn’t going to save the Democrats because Tea Party activists are more likely to back Republican candidates than to stay home. And so far, the national mood is more on the side of the Tea Partiers than it is on the Democrats. The Tea Parties are simply not a big enough negative to the Republicans to hurt them.
The Voters Are Mad As Hell, And They’re Not Taking It Anymore
The most important factor that will hand the Republicans control of the House is the national mood. Voters are angry. They feel like they were ignored in the health care debate. They are sick and tired of a Congress that lectures them while letting Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters run free on the taxpayer’s dime. In 2008, they were promised hope and changed. Now millions are unemployed and feeling hopeless about the future. Nothing has changed in Washington, it’s as broken as ever. President Obama’s numerous vacations adds to the sentiment that he simply doesn’t care.
Voters are angry, and the Democrats are the party in power. The Democrats failed to listen to voters, preferring to slur them as “teabaggers” and “racists.” Now they face the wrath of an electorate that’s ready to send a message to Washington.
The good news for the GOP: this anger will give them the House. The bad news? If they don’t do better than the Democrats in the next two years, that anger could be turned on them.