Category Archives: Election Update

Election Update: Gender Might Be Shaping Democrats’ Senate Chances

Not much has changed over at our midterm Senate forecast. Our model has been consistently showing Democrats at a disadvantage to take back control of the chamber. According to our Classic model, the odds are 1 in 7.
We have seen a trend develop: not all the so-called “red-state Democrats” (incumbents from states that President Trump won in 2016) are faring the same. Some, like the incumbents in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin are doing quite well. But we have our eye on red-state Democrats in states that lean heavily Republican. We’re mostly thinking of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Some of these senators are doing better than others.
Manchin has a comfortable 7-in-8 chance of keeping his seat, as does Tester. Donnelly has a slightly less robust lead, but our forecast still shows him with a 7-in-10 chance of winning. The red-state Democrats that look most endangered are McCaskill, who has a 3-in-5 chance, and Heitkamp who only has a 1-in-4 chance of keeping her seat.
If there is one theme that ties all these red-state Democrats’ reelection campaigns together it is “independence.” Each senator is trying to make a pitch that’s local, something along the lines of, “I’m here to protect the interests of the people of our state, not the interest of a party, and I’ll work across the aisle to get that done if need be.” They’re trying to appeal to Democrats, independents as well as a whole bunch of people who voted for Trump. That’s why you saw Donnelly make an ad that talked about the “radical left” and quoted Ronald Reagan, why Manchin reprised his shooting-a-piece-of-legislation-with-a-gun gambit (proof of independence and Second Amendment support), and why McCaskill has one spot that says she’s not “one of those crazy Democrats.”
But why are some of these red-state Democrats doing better than others? Some of these red states are redder than others. According to our partisan lean metric, North Dakota is the reddest of this group — it’s 33.2 points more Republican than the country overall, meaning Heitkamp is operating in a political environment that’s hostile to Democrats. But West Virginia is also pretty darn red — 30.5 points more Republican than the rest of the country, and Manchin is doing well there. Montana is 17.7 points more Republican, Indiana is 17.9 points more Republican and Missouri 19.0 points more Republican, yet in those three states with relatively similar levels of partisanship, it’s McCaskill that’s doing the worst.
Could something else explain Heitkamp and McCaskill’s troubles, something the forecast model can’t measure? Gender perhaps? Earlier this year, political scientist David Hopkins told my colleague Perry Bacon Jr., “There is some scholarly evidence that voters tend to perceive female politicians as more liberal than men.” Could this, coupled with recent high-profile political happenings be making an already hostile partisan environment even more hostile for these two women?
Events of the past few weeks put red-state Democrats in the uncomfortable position of deciding whether or not to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after he was accused of sexual assault. For many of the women of the Senate, the vote went beyond a party line position and verged into the realm of the personal. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted against Kavanaugh and said when asked in an interview that she’d had her own #MeToo moment (she declined to specify further). Heitkamp voted against the nominee as well, a move that many think might have sealed her fate. The senator said the vote wasn’t political. “History will judge you but most importantly you’ll judge yourself. And that’s really what I’m saying. I can’t get up in the morning and look at the life experience that I’ve had and say yes to Judge Kavanaugh.” McCaskill voted against the judge as well.
The highly partisan nature of the confirmation vote only a few weeks before Election Day was bad news for red-state Democrats overall, reminding Republican voters in their states of the national partisan stakes of their votes. Which of these candidates win on Election Day and which lose will come down in part to the kinds of campaigns they’ve run and the natural partisanship of their state environments, of course. But politics reflects the complications of human nature. It might well be the case that, as in so many parts of life, gender biases have been rearing up.


Governors Update: Democrats Could Win In Some Very Red States

Welcome to our Election Update for governors races for Friday, Nov. 2!
Democrats really could win the gubernatorial races in Alaska and Kansas next week. Victories in those traditionally red states would have major policy implications, but they would also provide a psychological boost to a Democratic Party always worried that it doesn’t have enough appeal outside of big cities and the two coasts.
The last time we checked in on Alaska, incumbent Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, had just dropped out of the race and endorsed former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat. This fundamentally altered the race, according to our governors model; it went from showing Republican Mike Dunleavy as a heavy favorite to only a modest one.
That was all somewhat hypothetical, however — based on the idea that the non-Dunleavy vote, which was split about evenly between Begich and Walker, would consolidate behind Begich. The polling has now borne that out. A survey released this week showed Dunleavy, a former state senator, at 43 percent and Begich at 42 percent.
The “Classic” version of our governors model shows Dunleavy with a 2 in 3 chance of winning, or about 67 percent. He’s still the favorite. But Alaska is not, say, Florida, where there are a lot of polls being conducted. I would not be at all surprised if Begich won. Americans are much more willing to cross party lines in governors races, compared with congressional contests, so Democrats often have a chance in gubernatorial races in red states and Republicans in blue ones. One big local factor in Alaska, for example: Walker expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. Begich has said that he will continue that policy, while Dunleavy has been non-committal. The Medicaid expansion is popular in Alaska (and most everywhere else too).
The race in Kansas between state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, has always been close. But it’s gotten closer. A poll released this week showed Kobach at 44 percent and Kelly at 43 percent.
When we launched our governors forecast on Oct. 17, Kobach was leading by 2.4 percentage points, on average, and Kansas fell into our “lean Republican” bucket. The Classic version of our model now suggests that Kobach has 1.4-percentage-point lead and is only a 4 in 7 favorite. The race has just edged into our “toss-up” category.
And Kobach has a new reason to be worried. Tim Owens, the campaign treasurer for Kansas’s top independent gubernatorial candidate, resigned this week and endorsed Kelly. Owens said the danger of having Kobach as governor was too great to risk splitting the anti-Kobach vote. The independent candidate, Greg Orman, has not dropped out; he sounds determined to stay in the race. But if even a small number of Orman’s backers follow Owens’s lead, that could tip this race to Kelly. Orman was at 8 percent in the poll released this week, and our model shows him winning between 5 percent and 15 percent of the vote. Where he falls in that range, and where his voters go if he’s toward the lower end of it, could make the difference.
I’ve focused on Alaska and Kansas here, but I wanted to note the Democrats’ fairly strong chances in two other traditionally red states: Oklahoma and South Dakota. The most recent poll in South Dakota, from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, found Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem with a 47-44 advantage over Billie Sutton, the Democratic leader in the South Dakota state Senate. It’s the third in a row to show a close race there. In Oklahoma, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt had a 46-42 lead over Democrat Drew Edmundson, a former Oklahoma attorney general, in the most recent survey. The Classic version of our model shows Noem with a 4 in 5 chance of winning and Stitt with a 6 in 7 chance, but a Democratic victory in either state would be a coup for the party and can’t be ruled out.
CORRECTION (Nov. 2, 2018, 11 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly described FiveThirtyEight’s governors forecast for Kansas when the forecast launched on Oct. 17. The Republican candidate, Kris Kobach, had a 2.4-percentage-point lead over the Democratic candidate, Laura Kelly, not a 2.8-point lead.
Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2018 midterms, as well as our House and Senate forecasts.


Senate Update: How This Year’s Race Sets Up 2020

Welcome to our Election Update for Thursday, Nov. 1!
According to all three versions of our forecast — Lite, Classic and Deluxe — as of 9 a.m. Eastern, Republicans have a 6 in 7 chance of holding on to the Senate. Every time a new poll fails to show Democrats gaining ground, the party’s window to turn things around closes a little bit further. Their 15.3 percent chance of flipping the chamber (according to the Classic version of our model) is one of the lowest we’ve seen all cycle.
With numbers like that, the Senate may seem like a foregone conclusion. But that would be the wrong way to approach it. Even if Republicans hold the Senate, the margin by which they do so could be decisive for future elections. In contrast to the 2018 Senate map, which presented Democrats with very few opportunities for gains and exposed tons of vulnerabilities, the 2020 Senate map has several possible openings for Democrats. Republicans picked up nine seats from Democrats in the 2014 elections, including in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina. That means Democrats will be able to play offense when those seats are up again in 2020 and may have a decent chance of flipping the chamber — as long as 2018 doesn’t dig them into too deep a hole.

The 2020 Senate battleground
Senators up for re-election in 2020 and their state’s partisan lean*

Incumbent

Name
Party
State
Partisan Lean

Michael Enzi
R
Wyoming
R+47.4

James Risch
R
Idaho
R+34.9

James Inhofe
R
Oklahoma
R+33.9

Mike Rounds
R
South Dakota
R+30.6

Shelley Moore Capito
R
West Virginia
R+30.5

Lamar Alexander
R
Tennessee
R+28.1

Doug Jones
D
Alabama
R+26.8

Tom Cotton
R
Arkansas
R+24.4

Ben Sasse
R
Nebraska
R+24.0

Pat Roberts
R
Kansas
R+23.3

Mitch McConnell
R
Kentucky
R+23.3

Steve Daines
R
Montana
R+17.7

Bill Cassidy
R
Louisiana
R+17.3

Lindsey Graham
R
South Carolina
R+17.2

John Cornyn
R
Texas
R+16.9

Cindy Hyde-Smith†
R
Mississippi
R+15.4

Dan Sullivan
R
Alaska
R+14.9

David Perdue
R
Georgia
R+11.8

OPEN (Jon Kyl)^
R
Arizona
R+9.3

Joni Ernst
R
Iowa
R+5.8

Thom Tillis
R
North Carolina
R+5.1

Jeanne Shaheen
D
New Hampshire
R+1.7

Mark Warner
D
Virginia
D+0.1

Gary Peters
D
Michigan
D+1.3

Cory Gardner
R
Colorado
D+1.5

Tina Smith†
D
Minnesota
D+2.1

Susan Collins
R
Maine
D+4.9

Tom Udall
D
New Mexico
D+7.2

Jeff Merkley
D
Oregon
D+8.7

Dick Durbin
D
Illinois
D+13.0

Cory Booker
D
New Jersey
D+13.3

Chris Coons
D
Delaware
D+13.6

Jack Reed
D
Rhode Island
D+25.7

Ed Markey
D
Massachusetts
D+29.4

* Partisan lean is the average difference between how a state or district voted and how the country voted overall. In our new partisan lean formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent, and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.
† Assuming the incumbent wins a special election in 2018.
^ Sen. Jon Kyl was appointed to serve out the remainder of the late John McCain’s term but has declared he will not run for a full term in 2020.
Sources: U.S. Senate, The New York Times

As you can see in the table above, Democrats have two obvious targets in 2020: Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the only two Republicans up for re-election in blue states. Four more Republicans sit in states that lean Republican by no more than 12 points,9 and so might be beatable in a favorable election environment or with the right candidates. Of course, it’s not a given that Democrats will add any seats at all to their total in 2020: Sen. Doug Jones faces an uphill fight in deep-red Alabama. What’s more, six more Democratic seats are also plausibly vulnerable.10
Granted, we have no idea what the political climate will be in 2020. (We’re still not sure what will happen five days from now!) But bear in mind that, although Democrats faced a terrible environment in 2010, President Barack Obama was comfortably re-elected just two years later, so even if Democrats prove to have a strong 2018, that doesn’t mean the GOP can’t turn it around in 2020. And if 2020 is a strong Republican year, Democrats probably have no chance at picking up the Senate no matter what happens in 2018. But let’s assume there’s no red wave in 2020 and that, thanks to the power of incumbency, Democrats are favored to hold all their current seats except Alabama in two years. What can they do in 2018 to make their task in 2020 as easy as possible?

Other than picking up the Senate outright, Democrats’ best bet is to make a net gain of one seat (say, picking up Arizona — where Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema currently has a 3 in 5 chance — while holding on to North Dakota or ousting Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada). That would create a 50-50 tie in the chamber11 — and there’s a 14.6 percent chance that will happen, per our forecast. In that scenario, Democrats would have plenty of paths to a majority in 2020: They could hold Alabama and flip either Colorado or Maine; they could flip both Colorado and Maine while losing Alabama; they could even get away with winning just one of those three states if they also win the vice presidency (and therefore the tiebreaking vote).
But according to the model, there’s a very real chance that the Senate’s balance of power will simply stay the same: 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats. If that happens (our model gives it a 17.7 percent chance as of 9 a.m.), Democrats would need to hold on to Alabama and win both Maine and Colorado — or else pick up a seat in one of the four closest Republican-leaning states.12
But our forecast also gives Republicans a 17.3 percent chance to net one seat and secure a 52-48 majority. In this scenario, maybe Republicans win with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in that state (a 2 in 5 chance) in addition to Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, while Democrats win with Sinema in Arizona. That would be a big win for the GOP because it would force Democrats to hold Alabama, win both Maine and Colorado, and pick up a Senate seat in a red state in 2020 to gain a majority. Based on states’ partisan leans,13 their easiest target would be Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina, which is 5 points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole. But we’re starting to get into scenarios where a relatively neutral political environment in 2020 would be enough for Republicans to easily keep the Senate that year.
Let’s say Republicans net two seats in 2018 — something our model assigns a 13.8 percent chance of happening. (For example, if the GOP holds on to Arizona while picking up North Dakota and Missouri.) Then in 2020 Democrats would need to hold on to all of their current seats (including Alabama) and flip four Republican seats. Their most plausible targets would be Collins, Gardner, Tillis and Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa. Iowa is about as red as North Carolina, so Ernst wouldn’t necessarily be a tougher target than Tillis, but Democrats couldn’t afford to lose even one of those races, so the odds would be stacked against them.
Finally, there’s a roughly 21 percent chance that the dam breaks and Republicans net three or more Senate seats this year. Democrats might lose their grip on seats like Indiana (where former Republican state Rep. Mike Braun has a 2 in 7 chance) or Florida (Gov. Rick Scott also has a 2 in 7 chance) in this scenario. The party would really have its work cut out for it in this case: Democrats would have to win all the seats outlined above plus places like Arizona or Georgia. Arizona may be feasible for Democrats in 2020, since it will likely be an open seat14 in a diversifying state. But that’s true of Arizona this year, too.
This is all speculation, of course. There are lots of moving parts in both 2018 (who will win and where) and 2020 (which incumbents will retire, whether the political environment will improve or worsen for Republicans). But it’s a useful exercise in understanding why Democrats should absolutely be sweating the difference between picking up one seat and losing one. Control of the chamber is at stake in 2018 … and in 2020.
CORRECTION (Nov. 01, 2018, 11:12 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Senate seats Republicans picked up in 2014. It was nine, not seven.


Election Update: Democrats Need A Systematic Polling Error To Win The Senate

The divide between the House outlook and the Senate outlook continues to widen. Democrats’ chances of winning a majority remain at or near their all-time highs in our House forecast — ranging between 78 percent (7 in 9) and 85 percent (6 in 7) in the various versions of our model. But they’re at their lowest point yet in the Senate. All three versions of our forecast give them only about 1 in 7 shot (about 15 percent) of taking over the Senate from Republicans.
This is normally the point at which you might expect us to give you a throat-clearing “well, actually” about how 1 in 7 chances happen all the time. Indeed, they do. One in seven days of the week is a Thursday. None of us woke up this morning screaming “Oh my gosh, I just can’t believe it’s a Thursday!” And nobody should really be that surprised if Democrats win the Senate next week, or if Republicans keep the House.
At the same time, Republicans have a fairly clear advantage in the Senate (as Democrats do in the House) — clearer than the edge Hillary Clinton had before the 2016 election, when President Trump had roughly a 3 in 10 chance to win the Electoral College. In 2016, a normal-sized polling error (if it worked in Trump’s favor) was probably going to be enough to give him a victory in the Electoral College. And that’s exactly what happened: The polls weren’t great in 2016, but they were about as accurate as they have been on average since 1972. Because the race was close and because Clinton was underperforming in the Electoral College, a small and routine but systematic polling error was enough to give Trump the win.

The difference this year is that a normal-sized polling error in Democrats’ direction would merely make the race for the Senate close. (Likewise, a normal-sized polling error in the GOP direction would make the House close, but Republicans would still have to fight it out on a district-by-district basis.) A sports analogy, for those so inclined: In 2016, Trump was doing the equivalent of driving for the game-winning touchdown with the odds somewhat but not overwhelmingly against him. If enough undecided voters in the Midwest broke toward him, he was going to win the Electoral College. In the Senate this year, by contrast, it’s more like Democrats are driving for the game-tying touchdown; they still have to win in overtime even if they score.
By a systematic polling error, I mean one that occurs in a correlated way across every race, or in certain groups of races — not merely errors that happen on a one-off basis. Our models account for the possibility of several different types of systematic errors, but in this article, I’m going to focus on the simplest type of systematic error, which is a uniform swing that applies to every race. In certain simulations, for example, our model will randomly simulate a 4-percentage-point uniform swing toward Republicans, in which it adds 4 points to the Republican margin in every state and district. From there, it proceeds to consider the other types of error and uncertainty.
What’s clear is that Democrats will very probably need some type of systematic polling error to win the Senate: They’ve fallen too far behind in too many races to have much of a shot at winning just by getting lucky on a case-by-case basis.
Problem No. 1 for Democrats is that they don’t have a clear path to a majority. Even if they were to win all of the “toss-up” Senate races, plus all of the races in which they’re favored, they’d wind up stuck at 50 seats, with Republicans also having 50 seats and Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote to preserve a GOP majority. Instead, Democrats will have to win at least one of the races that our model currently deems as “lean Republican” or “likely Republican” — namely North Dakota, Texas, Tennessee or (less plausibly) the Mississippi special election.
But in certain ways, the no-clear-path problem is overrated. Democrats aren’t favored in any of these races individually, but if you put them together collectively, they have a decent shot at winning at least one. According to the Deluxe version of our model, Democrats have a 23 percent chance to win North Dakota, a 20 percent chance to win Tennessee, an 18 percent chance to win Texas, and a 12 percent chance to win the Mississippi special election.15 Assume for a moment — this is a bad assumption but it’s useful as an illustration — that each Senate race is independent from the next one.16 Under that assumption, there’s a 55 percent chance that Democrats win at least one of those four races.
But here’s Problem No. 2: Even if Democrats manage to pull off a big upset somewhere, they also have to win a lot of other contests in which they’re somewhere between modest favorites and mild underdogs. The most problematic of these races for Democrats are Missouri, Indiana, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. There’s also a smaller but non-trivial chance of a loss in Montana, West Virginia, New Jersey and the Minnesota special election. In fact, if you assume that each Senate race is independent, Democrats’ overall chances of winding up with a majority is only 4 percent or 5 percent, according to our numbers. There are a lot of scenarios in which Beto O’Rourke beats Ted Cruz in Texas but Claire McCaskill loses her race in Missouri, or Dean Heller outlasts Jacky Rosen in Nevada — or Bob Menendez somehow blows it in New Jersey.
It’s the fact that Senate races aren’t independent from one another that gives Democrats a somewhat better chance.
Consider, for example, what would happen if there were a 2.5 percentage point uniform swing in Democrats’ favor. Why 2.5 percentage points? Because according to our model — which is based on how often systemic polling errors have occurred in congressional races since 1990 — 2.5 percentage points represents about one standard deviation’s worth of uniform swing on election night.17 About one-sixth of the time, Democrats will beat their polls by at least one standard deviation (or 2.5 points) in the average competitive Senate race. Another one-sixth of the time, Republicans will beat their polls by at least 2.5 points in the average Senate race. The remaining two-thirds of the time, we’ll wind up somewhere in between. Here’s what the eight most important Senate races would look like with a 2.5-point uniform swing in Democrats’ favor, according to the Deluxe version of our forecast:

Democrats can compete in the Senate … if there’s a uniform polling error in their favor
Forecasted vote margins in eight key Senate races, according to FiveThirtyEight’s “Deluxe” model vs. with a hypothetical uniform swing of 2.5 points toward all Democrats, as of Nov. 1 at 2 a.m.

State
“Deluxe” model
2.5 point Dem. swing

North Dakota
R+5.5
R+3.0

Texas
R+5.4
R+2.9

Tennessee
R+5.3
R+2.8

Nevada
R+0.4
D+2.1

Missouri
D+0.8
D+3.3

Arizona
D+1.2
D+3.7

Indiana
D+2.6
D+5.1

Florida
D+2.6
D+5.1

Democrats must win six of these eight races to win the Senate, assuming less-competitive races go as predicted.

Keep in mind that these projections are not meant to be deterministic. They just recalibrate the numbers in Democrats’ favor based on the hypothetical of a uniform swing in their direction. This is a good scenario for Democrats, but not a best-case scenario: They’d still have to win each race on a case-by-case basis, just under more favorable conditions than we originally expected. In fact, to take the Senate, Democrats would need to win six of the eight races on the list above.18
How easy would that be? With a polling error in their favor, Democrats would still be underdogs in Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas — but lesser underdogs than before, down by about 3 percentage points in each race. They’d be favored in the other five key races, although not by much except in Florida and Indiana. Overall, the Senate would be a lot more competitive than under the status quo, although you’d still rather be in Republicans’ position.
Of course, Democrats aren’t necessarily limited to a 2.5-percentage-point polling error. About 1 election in 40, there will be a two standard-deviation error in their favor, or 5 percentage points’ worth of uniform swing. Even then, Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas would only be toss-ups, but the overall odds would be stacked pretty heavily toward Democrats. There are also various other types of regional or demographic polling errors that could help Democrats. If they outperformed their polls in rural areas, that would be helpful to their chances in the Senate, for example.
If the polls are right, Democrats will lose the Senate. But our model’s job is to consider all these different ways in which polls and other data might be wrong, based on how often the polls have been wrong in the past, and by how much. There’s about a 1 in 7 chance that the polls are wrong enough — and wrong enough in just the right ways — that Democrats win the Senate instead of Republicans.


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.


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.