The numbers made easy: How Republicans will likely take the House
posted at 1:51 am on April 7, 2010 by Patrick Ishmael
Will the 2010 election be 2006 all over again? 1994? 1946? Whether races are classified as “Likely,” “Lean,” or “Toss-up,” the pros have lots of ways of hedging their bets, Congressional seat to Congressional seat.
Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t figure out what the electoral landscape will probably look like, based simply off of the predictors’ recent history. I’ll kick this discussion off with a 2006 article published in the Wall Street Journal:
For the House, the 1994 Cook Report listed 82 Democratic seats as competitive — more than double the 35 vulnerable Republican seats it sees today. Many of those 1994 districts were in the conservative South and had been redrawn to Republicans’ advantage after the 1990 census — “low-lying fruit,” in Mr. Fazio’s words, and “the biggest single reason” in Mr. Paxon’s view that Republicans were able to seize Congress.
Whether “competitive” includes seats that are considered “Likely Democrat” is unclear, but in terms of predicting who would control the House simply based on this track record, it wouldn’t matter: the result would be the same.
Let’s assume two separate 2010 scenerios: one that includes “Toss ups,” “Leans Democrat,” and seats already likely to go to the GOP, and another scenerio that also includes “Likely Democrat” in the mix. Let’s also assume that Cook’s success rate will be close to either his 1994 or 2006 predictions, keeping in mind Republicans need a net gain of 40 to capture the House.
This is what we get:
- 1994: Net 54 Republican gains with 82 competitive Democrat seats (66%)
- 2006: Net 31 Democrat gains with 35 competitive Republican seats (89%)
- Toss up and Lean, 2010: Net 40 (66%) or Net 53 (89%) of 60 competitive Democrat seats
- Toss up, Lean, and Likely, 2010: Net 63 (66%) or Net 85 (89%) of 95 competitive Democrat seats
The lowest end says the GOP barely takes the gavel in 2011. The highest end says the GOP takes the gavel… with a 91 seat majority. Let’s just say the latter outcome seems highly unlikely.
I bring up the Cook numbers not because they’re pure political Gospel, but because I think that it’s a lot easier to figure out how the GOP can get to 218 in the House than a lot of people let on. Could the GOP get 40 seats as Cook’s 1994 success rate suggest? Yes. Should “Toss-ups” really be understood as 50/50 races? History suggests they should not.
So let’s crunch some numbers.
I’ve aggregated what I believe are the latest predictions from The Cook Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Congressional Quarterly, and the Swing State Project. I’ve assigned numbers to each of the races they’ve rated and added an enthusiasm multiplier, which I’ll explain later. The scale is straightforward: Toss-ups are rated “0”, Leans rated “1”, Likelies rated “2”, and Solids rated “3.” Negative numbers mean, based on these four sources, a likely GOP seat takeover; positive numbers suggest better prospects for Democrats. Then, I took the average. As I’ve said in a prior similar posting, I’m no pro at this, but I think there’s a compelling argument to be made. Easy as 1-2-3. Or, rather, 80-60-40-20-10.
And so begins the raw data dump, sorted by my “enthusiasm multiplier” number. Don’t worry; a breakdown follows right after the chart:
And now, the breakdown. I’ve color-coded the seats to reflect what appears to be the consensus surrounding each House race. The “multiplier” is the Cook PVI assigned a numerical value, -3 to 3, which I’m using to simulate enhanced base turnout. (It affects the ordering only fractionally, but I think it reflects the real prospects of the coming election.) I’ll also note that the enthusiasm multiplier works against Democrats in Republican districts, but for Democrats in Democrat districts; whether enthusiasm is reflected evenly across the electorate remains to be seen, but insofar as it affects my ratings, it helps as much as it hurts Democrats, and perhaps helps too much.
I’ll lay each section out, in order, and leave to you the commenters as to whether the scenario I’m sketching out — a scenario I think is a pretty conservative one — makes a Republican House takeover seem likely. I think it does.
First, the most vulnerable Democratic seats
What becomes apparent in this first, most GOP-favorable grouping is that no seat is favored for Democrats, and many of the seats are currently “Open.” The reason? The former occupants generally believed they were toast if they stuck around, with a notable exception in Sestak. Note, too, what I’ve written in the last row: I think the GOP can win at least 80% of these seats. If they do, that’ll add 16 seats to their ranks.
Let’s move on.
This list includes all the seats that are considered less than, or including, “Leaning Democrat.” Fewer “Open” seats, but lots in Republican districts. Could Republicans take 60% of these? You be the judge. It’d net them 15 more, with any extras gravy. So far, we’re up to 31 seats.
The magic number is 40.
This is probably the key set if you’re a donor. Chet Davis won his district two years ago with just 53% of the vote. Ike Skelton is in for the race of his life. If the GOP can nab 5 of these 13 seats, they’d be on track to take the House; if they grabbed just a few more, it’s likely that races in the 60% and 80% categories are going even better for Republicans than I’ve set out here. This is likely the Democrats’ firewall. At this point, we’re 58 seats in.
By my count, we’re at 36 seats.
If the Republicans had to run against Heath Shuler 15 times, do you think they could win 20% of the time? If so, add 3. We’re at 39.
Upsets, anyone? If you think David Obey and Russ Carnahan are at least somewhat vulnerable, you may believe 10% of the Democrats similarly situated will lose their jobs in November. Two of these 24 leans to likely Democratic seats, and you’re at 41.
So what I’m saying is that of the 97 seats that are competitive enough to be worthy of mention by the prognosticators, I think that Republicans can win at least 41 of those seats (42%,) and probably more. There are a couple of seats that could flip on the Republican side, too, namely the Cao, Kirk, and Castle seats, so the GOP will probably have to offset those somehow.
That said, things are looking good for the GOP, as it’s pretty likely they’ll take the House this year. Frankly, dozen seat buffer is well within the realm of possibility.
Your thoughts? Is there someone on this list that you think is more or less vulnerable? Someone not on the list that should be? And seeing this list, what would be your strategy for donating to candidates if you were going to spread around your dollars? Comments welcome, dare I say requested.
Update: Wondering if your representative is on one of these lists? Hold CTRL-F to initiate the search function in your browser and just type the congressperson’s name or district in the dialog box (i.e., MO-3, VA-5, etc.)