How likely are Republicans to lose control of the House in November’s elections? They enjoy a fifty-nine seat majority — 61 including two Democratic vacancies — after a second successive midterm rout of Democrats, and even in losing the 2012 presidential election managed to limit their losses to just seven seats. Republicans would have to lose thirty seats to give up the gavel, which would be the largest shift (other than the 2010 midterm) since 1994.
In an interview with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa, though, Paul Ryan says part of his job is to worry about that kind of flip:
“Mitt [Romney] and I lost by four points and we lost eight seats. [Arizona Sen. John McCain] lost by seven [in 2008] and we lost 21 seats,” he said, referencing the past two presidential elections. “If you’re speaker of the House, it’s your job to worry about the Republican majority, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Amber Philips highlighted the comment as a cautionary note about the potential impact of Donald Trump in down-ballot races:
Ryan didn’t predict a Democratic landslide or anything — but he didn’t rule it out. And the mere fact the House changing parties is a possibility should give you an indication of just how concerned Republicans are about Donald Trump dragging them down in November. Way down. …
At a conference last week sponsored by Republican mega-donors the Koch brothers,the New York Times reported, Ryan “expressed concerns that the House was increasingly at risk,” and implored “donors not to assume that the House was impregnable and not to entirely focus their efforts on retaining the Senate.”
Well, we get lots of doom-and-gloom fundraising e-mails from campaigns up and down the ballot. Those appeals must work better into convincing smaller donors to keep the flow of cash going. And it’s not as if it’s impossible to see that kind of flip, particularly if the Republican presidential nominee collapses before the finish line in November.
But let’s talk about the current reality. Trump has had one bad week after staying competitive without much effort in July. Even when Trump has dropped in polls, there has been little evidence that voters have abandoned down-ticket Republicans as a result. Voters seem to have differentiated between Trump and other Republicans, perhaps in large part because Trump has framed his candidacy as an outsider from both political party establishments.
Two other factors come into play. First, there are very few competitive House races this fall. As of July 22nd, the Cook Report shows only 56 seats out of 435 at all competitive, 45 for Republicans and 11 for Democrats. Only 26 of those seats are “toss-up or worse,” and only 22 of those are Republican — and only five of those are leaning or likely going Democratic. And two of those five are open seats at the moment. It would take a massive wave to get thirty flips in November.
The other factor is the polling on the generic Congressional ballot. Over the last six months, the worst result in this RCP aggregation has been a D+5 from George Washington University/Politico battleground poll in April, tied with Fox’s late-June result. The most recent NBC/WSJ poll put the gap at D+4 in a poll taken in the middle of Trump’s post-convention swoon; the same poll sample gave Hillary a nine-point lead over Trump, 47/38.
The overall RCP average is D+3, which is not exactly great news for Democrats, as these polls usually underperform for Republican turnout. The final generic ballot polling average in 2014 was R+2.4, while the result was R+5.7. Even if the D+3 turns out to be solid, it won’t be likely to produce enough upsets to wrest the gavel from Ryan’s hands.
It pays to be vigilant, though, which is what Ryan was arguing — not that he’s ready to hit the panic button. We still have lots of campaigning to go, and theoretically anything’s possible, but Republicans should be more concerned about the top of the ticket … and the Senate.