Last week Cook Political Report posted an analysis of the House midterm election which said “Both sides see the possibility of a Red Tsunami in 2022.” But the rest of the Cook piece argued that because of redistricting changes 2022 can’t possibly equal a tsunami like the one in 1994 when Republicans won 54 seats. There are simply not as many competitive seats in the House as there used to be. So the author ultimately predicted a more modest wave:
Every metric we use to analyze the political environment — the president’s approval rating, the mood of the electorate, the enthusiasm gap — all point to huge gains for the GOP this fall. But, those metrics are bumping up against an increasingly ‘sorted’ House with few marginal seats and few incumbents sitting in the “wrong district.” As such, the more likely scenario for this fall is a GOP gain in the 15-25 seat range.
As I said at the time, 25 seats on top of the 13 the GOP picked up in the 2020 House elections is still going to be devastating to Democrats and to the Biden administration whose agenda will be dead in the water for the rest of his term. But is it possible things could get even worse for Dems?
Today, columnist Henry Olson at the Washington Post argues that the conventional wisdom of the Cook Political Report could be underestimating the GOP’s chances. He suggests a swing of as many as 40 seats is still possible:
The common wisdom rests on the notion that there just aren’t that many swing districts left to switch parties. Politico’s analysis of the new congressional maps confirms this assessment. It finds that there are only 61 competitive seats among the 398 districts in states with finalized maps. Add those to the 153 seats rated as safely Republican, and you get a maximum GOP ceiling of 214 seats. Republicans hold another 27 seats in the states that haven’t yet finished their maps, but even after accounting for them, they would still have, at most, a 236 majority. That would be a 23-seat gain from 2020, a significant but not tremendous improvement given the national environment.
Where Cook Political Report had an eye on the generic congressional vote, which showed a 7 point shift toward the GOP, Olsen looks at the outcome in Virginia and New Jersey last year and suggests the actual swing was closer to 12.5 points.
Biden sported an eight-point net negative job approval rating on Election Day in 2021, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. He won the 2020 election by 4.5 points, meaning public opinion shifted 12.5 points in one year. Lo and behold, Democrats lost every state legislative seat in those states that Biden carried by 11.75 points or less and a couple of additional seats above that line.
Here’s where the bad news starts for Democrats. They hold 42 House seats that fall below that mark, and a few more will be added to the list when New Hampshire and Florida draw their maps. Politico rates 13 of those 42 seats as safe for Democrats. If that doesn’t hold, the GOP could gain as many as 40 seats.
And as Olsen points out, President Biden is less popular now than he was last year. Instead of the eight-point net negative job approval rating, he’s currently underwater about 12 points. Factor that in and there could be another 17 “safe” Democratic seats that are actually up for grabs this year.
There are some big caveats here, the biggest of which is that the elections are still 7 months away. Any number of things could happen between now and then that could shore up Biden’s polling (or make it sink even lower). The obvious issue that could have an impact is the war in Ukraine but I wouldn’t rule out mass migration to the southern border as a wild card. Then there are truly unpredictable events like a domestic terror attack, a Supreme Court vacancy, etc.
Unfortunately for all of us riding this roller coaster, there can be a lot more ups and downs in the next seven months. But the bottom line is that there’s at least a possibility this midterm election could go beyond a 15-25 seat wave and become a real red tsunami. But hey, don’t worry Democrats, I’m sure it’ll all be fine.