Category Archives: 2018 House Elections

Politics Podcast: Debating Our Own House Forecast

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In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew again throws caution to the wind and debates whether to buy, sell or hold the odds, according to our House forecast, that Democrats will pick up various numbers of seats.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


Democrats Can Get Close To A House Majority With Suburban Seats Alone

This entire election cycle we’ve heard (and even written) that the Democrats’ path to a House majority may lie in the suburbs. Although that summary is a bit simplistic because of the breadth of the House battlefield, an analysis of a recent article from CityLab and FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast suggest that Democrats’ gains will come from districts that are more suburban than not.
CityLab placed all 435 House districts into six categories based on neighborhood density,19 two of which are predominantly suburban: “Sparse Suburban” and “Dense Suburban.” The former are districts that have a mix of exurban development and outer-ring suburbs at the periphery of major metropolitan areas like the Michigan 11th or New Jersey 3rd. And the latter are districts composed of more inner-ring suburbs and some urban areas, like the California 10th and Utah 4th. Together, these two categories have 169 districts, which means they make up 39 percent of all House districts. This compares to 42 percent of districts that are more rural and 19 percent that are more urban.20

Interested in knowing the likelihood that these districts will deliver a win for Democrats (or help Republicans keep control) in the midterms, I used the Classic version of FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast21 to understand the odds in these 169 districts. And what I found is that districts that are predominantly suburban could almost give Democrats a majority on their own.
Here’s my reasoning: Democrats currently have about a 6 in 7 (or 86 percent) shot of winning a House majority, and if we treat every district where a Democrat is favored, even slightly, as a win for that party, Democrats would gain a net of 32 seats.22 And 21 (or around 60 percent) fall in either the “Sparse Suburban” or “Dense Suburban” categories. Yes, these 21 seats are still shy of the 23 that Democrats need to win a majority, but they could play an important part in the party’s strategy to take back the House. (One important caveat: This seat count does include five toss-up districts. They’re toss-ups where the Democratic candidate is slightly favored to win, but they’re still toss-ups.)23

Democrats could be rockin’ the suburbs
The types of districts where FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast gives Democrats an edge to pick up seats, as of Oct. 31

Current districts
Forecasted districts

district category
Dem
gop
Dem
gop
Dem. pickups
Share of dem. pickups

Sparse Suburban
35
51
48
38
D+13
41%

Dense Suburban
56
27
64
19
D+8
25

Urban-Suburban
41
7
47
1
D+6
19

Rural-Suburban
21
93
24
90
D+3
9

Pure Rural
9
61
11
59
D+2
6

Pure Urban
33
1
33
1
0
0

Total
195
240
227
208
D+32
100

Data based on individual district win probabilities, which differs from the overall forecast. Some columns may not add up due to rounding. Data as of 2 p.m. Eastern on Oct. 31, 2018.
Source: CityLab

But it’s not just these two mostly suburban categories where Democrats could pick up seats. Two of the other four CityLab categories also contain districts that are somewhat suburban and could be pickups for Democrats. We’re talking about places like the Florida 27th — a mix of urban areas with some denser suburbs — and the Kentucky 6th — suburban and rural with little or no urban area — that respectively fall into the “Urban-Suburban Mix” and “Rural-Suburban Mix” groups. Together, they make up 37 percent of House districts, and if we combine them with the two predominantly suburban categories, you could say that almost every district where Democrats are favored to make gains has notable suburban characteristics, with just three potential pickups coming from “Pure Rural” seats.24 (Note: The oft-discussed Obama-Trump and Romney-Clinton districts both overlap with these suburban categories.)
Also, while Democrats are struggling to make significant gains in more rural parts of the country, you can see their potential in urban areas is practically maxed out,25 making their drive to pick up suburban seats all the more pressing.
But what does this mean for Democratic representation? Democrats already control 56 of the 83 “Dense Suburban” seats, so their potential gains in districts such as the California 49th and the Arizona 2nd — two GOP-held seats where Democrats have better than 9 in 10 odds of winning — would only make this Democratic-leaning category bluer. Rather, the potential for major Democratic gains is in the “Sparse Suburban” category. Such gains would dramatically shift the Democratic share of “Sparse Suburban” seats, from around 2 in 5 currently to potentially almost 3 in 5 after the midterms, essentially flipping the party makeup of this group and making it the group with the largest forecasted swing among the six CityLab categories.

Where each party dominates
Current share of districts controlled by Democrats in each neighborhood density category and share Democrats are forecasted to control in 2019

Share of Democrat-held districts

district category
Current
Forecasted
Difference

Sparse Suburban
41%
56%
+15

Urban-Suburban
85
98
+13

Dense Suburban
67
77
+10

Pure Rural
13
16
+3

Rural-Suburban
18
21
+3

Pure Urban
97
97
0

Total
45
52
+7

Data based on individual district win probabilities, which differs from the overall forecast. Data as of 2 p.m. Eastern on Oct. 31, 2018.
Source: CityLab

Where this change might be felt most is in Pennsylvania — thanks in large part to court-ordered redistricting. Democrats are solid favorites to capture the 6th, 7th, and 17th districts, all part of the “Sparse Suburban” category. But it’s not just Pennsylvania where Democrats stand to gain ground. The outer edges of metropolitan areas such as Minneapolis-St. Paul (the Minnesota 2nd and 3rd), New York City (the New Jersey 7th and 11th), and Washington, D.C., (the Virginia 10th) are also “Sparse Suburban” areas represented by Republicans but featuring races that favor Democrats to some degree. Democrats could also make gains in the “Urban-Suburban” category, although they already control the vast majority (85 percent) of those seats. But if each party wins every seat where they currently have an edge, Republicans will find themselves holding the majority of seats in just two of the six categories, both of which are predominantly rural: “Rural-Suburban” and “Pure Rural.”
Combining our forecast with CityLab’s data suggests that the GOP, which already does best in rural areas (see the current party breakdown in our first table), would become more concentrated in those places. Currently, Republicans control 80 percent or more of the seats in each of the two rural categories. And our Classic forecast does not expect dramatic Democratic gains there.26 On the other hand, the predominantly suburban districts — “Dense” and “Sparse” — could undergo a large shift whereby Democrats go from controlling 54 percent of those seats to holding 66 percent.
The battle for control of the House will mostly play out in suburban swing districts, as these are the districts most likely to change hands and there are enough of them to give Democrats much of what they need to take back the House.


Can Heitkamp Pull Off A Second Upset In North Dakota?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
Poll(s) of the week
Democrats’ chances of holding on to the North Dakota Senate seat — which is critical if they stand any chance of winning the upper chamber — look quite bleak according to a recent Fox News poll. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has long faced a tough uphill battle to win re-election in a state that President Trump carried by 36 percentage points in 2016. As you can see from the seven polls we’ve collected on the race so far, Heitkamp has trailed Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer for months. And two recent polls suggest that Heitkamp lost even more ground in the last couple of weeks, falling 10 to 12 points behind her opponent (before poll adjustments); in early September, she was only 4 points behind.

FiveThirtyEight’s Classic forecast currently gives Heitkamp just a 1 in 3 chance of winning re-election. Those odds aren’t great, but Heitkamp surprised everyone in her first bid for the seat in 2012 — more on that in a moment.
There is some speculation that Heitkamp’s vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination — a decision that was both politically and personally difficult for her — may have eroded the senator’s support among voters.6 But it’s difficult to say what impact, if any, her vote against Kavanaugh has had, as there hasn’t yet been any polling since the vote. That said, since the North Dakota contest is one of the most competitive Senate races this year, there will probably be at least a few more polls in the final weeks before the election.

Make no mistake, the polling so far is not great for Heitkamp, but this is a political candidate well acquainted with being an underdog. Heitkamp trailed her opponent in several polls in 2012, only to go on to win by less than 1 percentage point. It was one of the biggest election upsets that year. What’s more, her victory came even as Barack Obama lost the state to Mitt Romney by 20 points.
Although Heitkamp was able to pull off an improbable victory in 2012, there are already some signs that she might not be able to do the same this time around. Our polls database shows that eight polls conducted in October 2012 had her losing the race by as much as 10 points or winning it by as much as 6 points. But polls this year tell a different story. Only one poll has found her ahead, and it was conducted in February. The most recent poll suggests she’s trailing by as much as 12 points.
The political environment is more favorable for Democrats this year than it was in 2012, which could give Heitkamp a boost, but unfortunately for her, North Dakota has likely moved more to the right since she was elected, making it tougher for Democrats to compete there. To give you a sense of just how hard it is for Democrats to win in the state right now, consider North Dakota’s 2016 Senate race, where Democrat Eliot Glassheim lost to incumbent Republican John Hoeven by a whopping 62 points. And in this year’s congressional race,7 the Democratic candidate has less than a 1 in 100 chance of winning.
It could also be that Rep. Cramer is a stronger candidate than Heitkamp’s 2012 opponent was. That year, Rep. Rick Berg was a one-term congressman and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, who drew criticism for his ties to a controversial property-management company. But Cramer, a three-term Congressman, seems to be just as well liked as Heitkamp. What’s more, President Trump has a 64 percent approval rating in the state and has endorsed Cramer and even held a rally for him earlier this summer.
In 2012, Heitkamp’s strategy was to focus on local issues, like farming and energy, and avoid partisan politics. But that same strategy might not work as well this time around as she faces an increasingly nationalized landscape where more voters opt for the same party in every race. Furthermore, Heitkamp did not have a voting record to criticize in her first run. Now she does. Heitkamp has voted in line with Trump just 54 percent of the time, far less than we’d expect based on Trump’s margin of victory in her state. She voted against the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and against the GOP’s tax plan, opening her up to attacks from conservatives. But voting alongside Republicans may not have helped her re-election bid either. Her vote for the Keystone XL pipeline for example, could hurt her with Native American voters, who helped put her in office in 2012. And even if most Native American voters still support her, new voter ID requirements in the state are expected to depress turnout among tribe members in this election.
In the end, voting against Kavanaugh may be the least of Heitkamp’s worries. Heitkamp has less than a month to improve her poll numbers (or outperform them), and if she doesn’t, Democrats’ longshot odds of taking back the Senate become much longer.
Other polling nuggets

In Tennessee, a Siena College/New York Times live poll, which updates in real-time as respondents are called, has Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn leading her Democratic opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, by double digits. FiveThirtyEight’s classic forecast, which considers both polling and fundamentals, now gives Blackburn a 4 in 5 chance of keeping her seat. But our Lite forecast, which only uses polling data and listed the race as a toss-up last week, now gives Blackburn a 3 in 4 chance of keeping her seat.
In Virginia’s 10th District, a Washington Post-Schar School poll found Democrat Jennifer Wexton with a double-digit lead over Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock. The FiveThirtyEight Classic model gives Wexton a 5 in 6 chance of unseating Comstock.
CNN found a 35-point gender gap in its most recent generic ballot poll; that’s up from a 29-point gap last month. Sixty-three percent of women and 45 percent of men said they were more likely to support a Democrat in their congressional district. Only 33 percent of women said they were more likely to support a Republican candidate, compared to 50 percent of men who said the same.
80 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa own a mobile phone according to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center.8 While that percentage has held steady since 2014, rates of internet usage and smartphone ownership have increased.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 38 percent of Canadians and 31 percent of Mexicans believe that the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its people. That’s down significantly from 2013, when 75 percent of Canadians and 55 percent of Mexicans said the same. What’s more, in 21 out of the 22 countries surveyed, negative perceptions of the U.S. government were more common than they had been in 2013.
42 percent of adults in the U.S. say that they “strongly disagree” with the notion that they are interested in the political and social opinions of celebrities whose work they enjoy, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted with The Hollywood Reporter.
A poll of young people aged 18-24 conducted by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and GfK found that 34 percent say they are “extremely likely” to vote this November. If that comes to pass, it would be an unusually high turnout rate for young adults in a midterm election.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that two different sampling methods for national political polls, random digit dialing (RDD) and registration-based sampling (RBS), yielded similar results. RDD involves finding a selection of potential voters that is representative of the national electorate by dialing random numbers, while RBS involves conducting polls using a list of registered voters. Many national polls use RDD, but this research suggests RBS may also produce good results.
Brazil’s presidential election has gone to a runoff after no candidate gained at least 50 percent of the vote during the first-round elections on Sunday. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote, while his best-performing opponent, leftist Fernando Haddad, won just 29 percent. Although polling prior to the first round suggested that a Bolsonaro-Haddad runoff could be close, a Datafolha poll published after the first round of voting found Bolsonaro leading Haddad 58 percent to 42 percent. The runoff election will be held on Oct. 28.

Trump approval

The president’s net approval rating currently sits at -10.7 points , according to our tracker. That’s about the same as it was one week ago. But Trump is doing better with voters than he was one month ago, when he had a -13.5 net approval rating (40.0 percent approved and 53.5 percent disapproved).
Generic ballot

Democrats haven’t improved their position by much over the last week. According to our generic congressional ballot polls, Democrats lead Republicans by an 8.3-point margin (49.7 percent to 41.4 percent). Last week, Democrats had a 7.7-point advantage over Republicans. One month ago, they were doing slightly better with an 8.6-point margin against Republicans.
Check out our 2018 House and Senate forecasts and all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the midterms.
CORRECTION (Oct. 12, 2018, 9:15 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Rep. Marsha Blackburn as an incumbent senator in Tennessee. Republican Bob Corker currently holds the seat.


Democrats Have A Chance To Win One Of The Reddest Districts In The Country

West Virginia’s 3rd District doesn’t seem like a district that should be competitive. It should be an easy Republican hold. After all, President Trump won the 3rd District, anchored by Huntington, by 49 percentage points, and the district’s FiveThirtyEight partisan lean13 is R+37, meaning it is 37 points more Republican than the country as a whole. In fact, the West Virginia 3rd is one of the 50 most GOP-leaning seats in the country, according to our calculations. Yet the election prognosticators have tagged the race as “Lean Republican” or even a “Toss-up,” and nonpartisan polls have found mixed results since the May primary.
So how did such a deeply Republican seat become competitive? For one thing, it’s an open seat held by the presidential party, which can make it particularly susceptible to large swings in party vote share. The seat’s incumbent, Evan Jenkins, ran for a U.S. Senate seat instead of seeking re-election, so the 3rd is among the 41 seats Republicans are defending where the incumbent either retired, ran for another office or lost renomination.14 Another crucial factor is the cross-party appeal of state Sen. Richard Ojeda, the Democratic nominee, and his in-your-face populism. We know Ojeda could be a real threat because he won his state Senate district 59 percent to 41 percent in 2016, even as it backed Trump 78 percent to 19 percent.15
Despite all that, the “Classic” version of FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast currently gives Ojeda’s GOP opponent, state Delegate Carol Miller, around a 9 in 10 chance of winning — making West Virginia’s 3rd one of the districts where our forecast most disagrees with election handicappers. Our “Lite” forecast, which tries to rely as much as possible on the polls, has her as only a 3 in 5 favorite, though — it agrees with the handicappers.
The disagreement between our “Classic” forecast in West Virginia 3rd on one side and our “Lite” forecast and the handicappers on the other, basically comes down to this: Could a Democrat really win such a red district? If Ojeda were to win in November, his victory as a Democrat in an R+37 seat would rank as the largest “crossover” midterm party flip — by far — since at least 1998.16 It’s also the only district in our forecast17 that has a realistic chance at surpassing the record for a crossover flip in a midterm.

The biggest “crossover flips” in modern midterms
The 20 House midterm races that changed parties with the most extreme partisan leans away from the party of the winning candidate, 1998-2014

Year
CD
Incumbent
Inc. status
Winner
cd Partisan Lean

2006
TX-22

Tom DeLay
Resigned

Nick Lampson
R+29

2006
PA-10

Don Sherwood
Lost

Chris Carney
R+19

2006
IN-8

John Hostettler
Lost

Brad Ellsworth
R+18

2006
KS-2

Jim Ryun
Lost

Nancy Boyda
R+17

2006
IN-9

Mike Sodrel
Lost

Baron Hill
R+15

2014
FL-2

Steve Southerland
Lost

Gwen Graham
R+14

2006
OH-18

Bob Ney
Retired

Zack Space
R+14

2014
IL-10

Brad Schneider
Lost

Bob Dold
D+13

2006
NC-11

Charles Taylor
Lost

Heath Shuler
R+12

1998
KS-3

Vince Snowbarger
Lost

Dennis Moore
R+12

1998
NJ-12

Mike Pappas
Lost

Rush Holt
R+12

2006
AZ-5

J.D. Hayworth
Lost

Harry Mitchell
R+11

2006
WI-8

Mark Green
Ran for gov.

Steve Kagen
R+11

2006
TX-23

Henry Bonilla
Lost

Ciro Rodriguez
R+11

2006
FL-16

Mark Foley
Resigned

Tim Mahoney
R+11

2014
NY-24

Dan Maffei
Lost

John Katko
D+10

1998
KY-4

Jim Bunning
Ran for Sen.

Ken Lucas
R+10

2006
PA-4

Melissa Hart
Lost

Jason Altmire
R+9

2006
IN-2

Chris Chocola
Lost

Joe Donnelly
R+9

2014
IA-1

Bruce Braley
Ran for Sen.

Rod Blum
D+9

In FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean formula, 50 percent of the weight is given to the 2016 presidential elections, 25 percent to the 2012 presidential election and 25 percent to state legislative elections. In the partisan lean column, negative values represent Republican leaning districts and positive values represent Democratic leaning districts.
Source: Gary Jacobson

The largest crossover flip to date came in 2006, when Democrat Nick Lampson won former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s district, the Texas 22nd — a R+29 seat. Wounded by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, DeLay withdrew from his re-election race and then resigned. Texas Republicans could not replace DeLay’s name on the ballot, which helped Lampson cinch victory against Shelley Sekula Gibbs, the principal Republican write-in choice.18 As for the other races in the table, controversy surrounded some of the incumbents who lost or abandoned their seats while others were ideologically extreme, but most fell in cycles more advantageous for the opposing party.19
Here’s the bad news for Ojeda, even if he wins: These extreme midterm crossovers tend to be short-term blips. Of the 18 seats in the table above that do not include incumbents running in the 2018 cycle, 12 reverted to their district’s previous party within two cycles.20 Looking at our partisan lean data and the current Congress, just 25 House seats are “crossover seats” out of 435.21 In our highly polarized political era, it’s understandably challenging for a party to hold a seat that predominantly leans toward the other party by default.
Still, when it comes to control of the House, every seat matters, no matter how short-lived the victory may be. After all, political winds change and a district might shift — either naturally or through redistricting — in a way that could make it easier to retain. Plus, the winning candidate could become a particularly formidable incumbent. Case in point, the longest-serving winner in the table above was Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, who won the R+12 Kansas 3rd in 1998 and then five more times. From 1998 to 2008 — the years Moore sought office — the Kansas 3rd’s partisan lean ranged between R+9.5 and R+13, yet Moore managed to hold off the GOP each time. He retired in 2010.
For Democrats, the West Virginia 3rd may be a reach, but as we’ve seen in previous elections, it’s one Democrats could still grab on Election Night.


Six Districts The GOP Appears To Have Abandoned — And Maybe Two More It Should

Welcome to our Election Update for Wednesday, Oct. 10!
As of 9:20 a.m. Eastern time, Republicans have a 4 in 5 chance (80 percent) of holding the Senate, according to our Classic forecast. The situation is much more dire for the GOP in the House, where Democrats have a 7 in 9 chance (78 percent) of taking control. They are so dire in some GOP-held districts, in fact, that national Republicans have begun pulling their resources or never invested them in the first place — effectively ceding those seats to Democrats, presumably so that the GOP can bolster more winnable districts.
Why take such a drastic step? Usually, it’s because party elders believe the seat is already lost. But parties don’t always show the best judgment about these things, so we thought we would compare the seats that Republicans have given up on with the seats most likely to flip to Democrats in our model. And what we found was that Republicans are indeed picking their battles wisely, at least based on what we know right now.

Daily Kos Elections is tracking House districts that either party appears to have conceded. According to its data, there are six Republican-held districts that both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund31 have opted out of: the California 49th, Iowa 1st, New Jersey 2nd, Pennsylvania 5th, Pennsylvania 6th and Pennsylvania 17th.32 (By contrast, national Democrats haven’t abandoned any Democratic-held districts so far, according to the Daily Kos list.) Below are the eight Republican-held districts that our model says are most likely to fall to Democrats, as of 9:20 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

Where the GOP pulls the plug, Democrats have better odds
Republican-held districts where Democrats have the highest chances of winning, according to the Classic model of the FiveThirtyEight 2018 House forecast, as of 9:20 a.m. Eastern time on Oct. 10

Democratic candidate
Republican candidate

District
Name
Chance of Winning
Name
Chance of Winning

PA-5
Mary Gay Scanlon
>99.9%
Pearl Kim
<0.1%

PA-6
Chrissy Houlahan
98.6
Greg McCauley
1.4

NJ-2
Jeff Van Drew
97.6
Seth Grossman
2.4

IA-1
Abby Finkenauer
97.5
Rod Blum
2.5

PA-7
Susan Wild
96.7
Marty Nothstein
3.3

AZ-2
Ann Kirkpatrick
95.3
Lea Marquez Peterson
4.7

CA-49
Mike Levin
93.7
Diane Harkey
6.4

PA-17
Conor Lamb
89.4
Keith Rothfus
10.6

Our model generally agrees with top Republicans’ assessments: All six of the districts that Daily Kos has tracked make our list as well. Republicans are almost certainly correct to give up hope about the Pennsylvania 5th, which (along with every other district in the state) was redrawn in court-ordered redistricting this year; it is now 26 percentage points more Democratic-leaning than the country as a whole.33 The Pennsylvania 6th also got bluer, but the real death knell to the GOP came when incumbent Rep. Ryan Costello backed out of his re-election campaign, leaving his long-shot primary challenger as the only Republican candidate. National Republicans abandoned the New Jersey 2nd District after their candidate linked to a white supremacist website, and in the Iowa 1st, Rep. Rod Blum trails by a wide margin in the polls amid an ethics scandal.
You may have noticed that two of the eight districts in our table aren’t on the Daily Kos list. That’s because Republicans apparently haven’t backed away from them yet — but maybe they should. The Arizona 2nd (which typically plays host to some of the closest congressional races in the country) and the Pennsylvania 7th (another redrawn seat) are strong Democratic bets by our calculations — even stronger than the California 49th and Pennsylvania 17th. But Republicans better not give up on too many seats; each one they triage lowers the number of competitive districts Democrats have to win to take back control of the House. But remember: There’s nothing stopping the GOP from jumping back into any of these races at any time between now and Nov. 6, so nothing is yet lost for good.