Thursday Mar. 17, 2016

November Forecast Improving for House Democrats

While the public's attention remains fixated on the presidential primary, the congressional race continues to clarify. More than a year ago, the NCEC projected that Democratic gains in the U.S. House are likely to exceed 20 seats (see Feb. 6, 2015). Our projection remains that the House Democrats can expect a solid 12 – 15 seat gain and the potential for a 20-seat or more Democratic gain remains plausible. Republican retirements, along with the elevated turnout of a presidential election, are both factors that favor the Democrats as the election approaches.

Additionally, recent redistricting decisions have set the stage for three to four Democratic pick-ups in November: a net gain of up to three seats in Florida (10th, 13th, and 26th Districts) and an additional seat in Virginia (4th District) are easily conceivable. Three of these districts strongly favor the Democratic candidate; only Florida's 26th District is likely to be competitive in November.

New District Opportunities

Open seats remain the most likely to change hands in any election, and recent Republican retirements in three toss-up districts (Pennsylvania's 8th, Minnesota's 2nd, and Nevada's 3rd) present strong opportunities for Democratic gains. However, it is worth noting that there are three Democratic open seats that are also in jeopardy.

Democratic Open Seats
AZ01Kirkpatrick
CA20Farr
CA24Capps
CA44Hahn
CA46Sanchez
DE01Carney
FL09Grayson
FL18Murphy
IL08Duckworth
MD04Edwards
MD08Van Hollen
NY03Israel
NY13Rangel
TX15Hinojosa
WA07McDermott
Republican Open Seats
FL06Desantis
FL10Webster
FL11Nugent
FL13Jolly
IA03Young
IN03Stutzman
IN09Young
KY01Whitfield
LA03Boustany
MI01Benishek
MI10Miller
MN02Kline
NV03Heck
NY19Gibson
NY22Hanna
OH08Boehner
PA08Fitzpatrick
PA16Pitts
TX19Neugebauer
VA02Rigell
VA04Forbes
VA05Hurt
WY01Lummis

Beyond open seats, 17 Republican incumbents face reelection fights in districts with a Democratic Performance Index above 50 percent—14 of the 17 have credible opponents. By contrast, only five Democrats face reelection campaigns in districts with Republican majorities. Despite the almost certain loss in the 2nd District of Florida, Democrats hold a clear advantage in this group.

Democrats in
Majority Republican Seats
FL02Graham
FL18Murphy
MN01Walz
MN07Peterson
NE02Ashford
Republicans in
Majority Democratic Seats
AZ02McSally
CA21Valadao
CO06Coffman
FL07Mica
FL10Webster
FL13Jolly
FL26Curbelo
FL27Ros-Lehtinen
IA01Blum
IA03Young
IL10Dold
ME02Poliquin
NH01Guinta
NJ02Lobiondo
NJ03MacArthur
NV04Hardy
NY02King
NY19Gibson
NY24Katko
PA08Fitzpatrick
TX23Hurd
VA04Forbes
WV01McKinley
WV03Jenkins

Even without the fortuitous district dynamics, the composition of the electorate in a presidential election year inherently favors Democrats. Election results in recent years have borne this out: Democrats gained a net of 10 US Senate seats and 32 House seats in the last two presidential elections, while Republicans gained 15 US Senate seats and an astonishing 77 House seats in the last two midterm elections.

House Democrats likely to pick up 12-15 seats

Should he win the Republican nomination, Donald Trump may elicit far more Republican base support than Mitt Romney, but the suburban landscape of the vulnerable Republican House seats still looks favorable for Democratic House candidates regardless of Trump's presence on the ticket. A Trump candidacy could bolster Republican fortunes in certain districts, while benefiting the Democrats in others. For example, Trump could benefit Republicans in marginal districts such as Illinois' 12th District or West Virginia's 2nd District. Conversely, his presence on the ticket could help Democrats in majority-Latino districts, such as California's 10th and 12th Districts.

Overall, 207 House districts favor Democrats in presidential years. That alone implies a gain approaching 20 seats in 2016. Though the underlying fundamentals still point toward double-digit gains, the volatility of the 2016 election leaves us less bullish on an outright majority.