Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is the House in play in 2012?

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at the Washington Post are asking that question. Democratic pollster Democracy Corps argues that it is. Glen Bolger at Republican pollster POS disagrees.

I've looked at this before. I've been pessimistic on this.
Below are Presidential re-election and how many seats the Democrats will get if they perform like each President. This chart is derived from determining how much above the expected average number of seats each President won when re-elected.

The good news for Democrats is that in almost every case they'll gain seats. It'd take a Jimmy Carter size loss for them not to. If they follow Reagan, Eisenhower, or the two Bushes they'll fall a little short. If they perform like Johnson, Truman, and Nixon, they'll do it. Johnson's circumstances were unusual. He benefitted from sympathy as a result of John Kennedy's death and a poor Republican candidate. Johnson also got the highest percentage of the popular vote of any President.

Truman is a better example, as his foe wasn't that bad and there wasn't much sympathy from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death. Still, Truman had never been elected before, making it different from Obama's situation.

Nixon had a poor opponent and was also one of the three Presidents to top 60% of the vote. Reagan also won in a landslide and the expected 217 total is within a margin of error. So Truman is the only non-landslide President. If Obama wins by 18 or more points, as Reagan, Nixon, and Johnson did the Democrats have a good shot to flip the House. Otherwise, it's a long shot.

If we look at the 11 times the House has flipped since 1894 we see that the incumbent President's party was the one doing the flipping twice.

House gains big enough to flip the House are usually due to a President's unpopularity, not due to his popularity.

Of course the big 800 pound gorilla is redistricting. Right now there are 234 Republican leaning districts, 192 Democratic leaning, and 9 even. After redistricting, there'll be at least 240 Republican leaning districts, if not 250.

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