Category Archives: 2018 Election

What Happens When Dozens Of Wave-Year Freshmen Join The House?

It might be hard to tell at the moment, but there are freshmen Democrats in the House other than New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women have become the face of the new class in Congress, a total of 64 newly elected Democrats joined Congress this month, each of them with their own platform and political leanings. Yet all of them won their seats in the same wave election that swung at least 40 House seats to the Democrats10 — an election that has media wags wondering if the new Democratic representatives will cause headaches for the old guard.
The data suggests … probably not.
American politics have been inundated by big waves before, and a close look at how those freshmen classes voted may shed light on how today’s wave might affect the government. In 1994, for example, under the banner of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the GOP ushered in a so-called Republican Revolution, swinging Congress 54 seats to the right. In 2010, Republicans did it again, this time powered by the tea party; the GOP picked up 63 seats. But American politics are turbulent. In 2006 and 2008, it was the Democrats’ turn to surf — they picked up 31 and 21 seats those years. While there is no widely accepted definition of a “wave” year, there seems to be some consensus that these four elections were waves, so that’s where I’m going to focus my analysis.
After they were elected, all of these wave-riding freshman representatives actually had to go to work and cast votes. Votes are data, and data, in this case, turns into ideology scores. Specifically, we can use Nokken-Poole ideology scores to see whether wave-year freshmen voted demonstrably differently from their more veteran peers. (This method boils down actual congressional votes into a single dimension, meaning that bigger negative numbers represent more liberal positions and bigger positive numbers represent more conservative positions.)

With a possible exception of Republicans elected in 2010, when the tea party was big, first-year representatives entering Congress in a wave year don’t look all that different from any of the other representatives — they tend to be distributed across the ideology score spectrum in about the same way as their longer-serving peers. That could be good news for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she tries to keep her caucus in line.
But it’s not just the wave-riding freshmen who aren’t that different from the veterans. Freshmen of all classes tend to vote similarly to — or, if anything, slightly to the right of — their party elders. These are the ideological distributions of all freshmen and all non-freshmen from 1994 through 2018.

But what became of these freshmen who rode into Congress on electoral waves? Did those who were re-elected (and, in some cases, re-elected and re-elected and re-elected …) begin to alter their legislative behavior after they’d served for a while? Where could Ocasio-Cortez and her peers end up, ideologically speaking, in a decade’s time, if they follow roughly the same path as those who came before them?
There is some weak evidence that those congresspeople who rode in on recent waves — be they Democrats or Republicans — shifted to the left over time. (For the universe of all congresspeople, there is some evidence that spending more time in Congress means a person takes, on average, a slightly more extreme ideological position.) The Republicans of the class of 1994, for example, became on average more moderate than their fellow congressmen, while the Democrats of the classes of 2006 and 2008 became on average more liberal. Practically speaking, however, these effects appear small, especially when each wave-year class is viewed as an aggregate. The single red and blue lines on the chart below represent the careers of each newly elected member of that year’s wave party, while the thick black lines show a smoothed trend for each class. The members of the wave classes thin out over time and, in some cases, shift their ideologies.

There are a couple of notable outliers clearly visible above. In 1999, Rep. Michael Forbes, who had been a freshman in the Republican Revolution class, announced he was becoming a Democrat. And in 2009, Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith became a Republican while still a freshman — he’d been elected in a Democratic wave just over a year before.
There’s an important caveat to all this: the Nokken-Poole scores are built only on how congresspeople vote. The scores don’t tell us anything about what the congresspeople are voting on, or the ripple effects that freshmen may have on senior members by, for example, threatening to vote as a bloc, introducing legislation the House might not otherwise have considered, or using their public appearances to rile up segments of senior members’ electorates who might not normally contact their representatives. For instance, some pundits have argued that the tea party changed “the very DNA of the GOP.” (Congress has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act many times since 2010, for example, which was one of the main planks of the tea party movement.) Others have argued that Gingrich’s Republican Revolution is linked to “the upheaval now taking place around the globe.” Only time will tell what effects the recent and ongoing blue wave might have. Already, we can see how young left is trying to expand which ideas Democrats are willing to entertain — including, perhaps, remaking the country’s very economic system.
We don’t yet have ideological measures for the freshmen swept into the House on 2018’s wave, of course — they haven’t participated in enough votes in D.C. But if today’s freshmen stick around long enough to become senior statesmen, there are hints here that they may shift the House even further to the left. Cowabunga, dude.

Politics Podcast: How To Judge Our Forecasts

By Nate Silver and Galen Druke and Nate Silver and Galen Druke


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In this installment of Model Talk on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Nate Silver explains how to judge the performance of the forecast, given that we expect the less likely scenario to happen sometimes. Nate also responds to listener questions, including explaining how all of the data in the forecast is collected.
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.

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.

Trump Put Immigration Back In The Headlines. Will It Boost GOP Turnout?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
Poll(s) of the week
President Trump has fixated on immigration in the days leading up to next week’s midterm elections, perhaps in the hopes that it will drive Republicans to the polls. Since mid-October, he has made the thousands of Central American migrants who have said they are traveling to the U.S. to seek asylum a focal point of his tweets and public statements, most recently in a press conference Thursday. And earlier this week, he intensified his hardline immigration agenda, telling Axios that he wants to use an executive order to ban birthright citizenship. It’s difficult to know whether, or how much, stoking fears about illegal immigration will help Republicans turn out the vote, but a new poll from The Economist and YouGov gives us some clues as to why Trump might think it will.
For starters, there’s evidence that Trump’s rhetoric on the migrant caravan has resonated with his base. Republicans — especially Trump voters — were more likely than Democrats to have heard “a lot” about the caravan, and a majority of Republicans said the U.S. should “reject all of the immigrants in the caravan” (as opposed to accepting all of them or accepting only those who have a valid claim for asylum). Also, Trump’s dubious claim that the caravan contained “unknown Middle Easterners” (there have been no reports from intelligence agencies to suggest that this is true, and Trump later said he has no proof to support it) appears to have been widely believed by Republicans. Forty-seven percent said they thought that “some” of the people in the caravan were “Middle Eastern terrorists.” And 72 percent of Republicans said they “strongly approve” of Trump’s order to deploy thousands of troops to the border ahead of the caravan’s arrival.
Also in the YouGov poll, immigration was the most frequent response among Republicans when they were asked what the most important issue to them was; 20 percent chose it from a list of 15 issues (the economy ranked second, with 17 percent). Among independents, immigration came in second (13 percent said it was the most important issue to them) — which could be good news for Republicans looking to win among independents. (Among Democrats, immigration was tied for sixth place — their top answer was health care.)
So maybe Trump really is tapping into an issue that will motivate Republicans to vote. But much of his success will boil down to whether he is able to turn out voters in key swing states with close races. That said, a recent CBS News/YouGov poll of voters in Arizona, Florida and Indiana found that a vast majority of Republicans said immigration was “very important” to their vote for Congress this year. All three states have a competitive Senate race on the ballot. Several House races in Arizona and Florida are especially close, and Florida has a tight gubernatorial race as well.
What voters see as an important issue and what motivates them to vote can depend on the current news cycle, although the effects can fade. For instance, Republican enthusiasm about the midterm elections surged in October polls after Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s heated confirmation hearing. But there are some signs that the excitement has died down. In the most recent Economist/YouGov poll, Republicans’ enthusiasm to vote in the midterms dropped 3 points, compared with the previous week.
It’s still too soon to know what will happen in the polls in the wake of the pipe bombs that were mailed to prominent Democratic critics of Trump or in response to the anti-Semitic shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead. So while it’s possible that immigration could drive Republicans to vote on Election Day and maybe even make a difference in some key races, it’s also entirely possible that enthusiasm around immigration issues could weaken in the coming days.
Other polling nuggets

A CNN poll conducted by SSRS of Arizona’s Senate race found that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema had lost ground to Republican Martha McSally but was still ahead by 4 percentage points. An NBC News/Marist College poll, meanwhile, found that Sinema had a 6-point lead. As of Thursday afternoon, FiveThirtyEight’s Classic forecast rated the race as a “toss-up” and gave Sinema a 3 in 5 chance of winning.
A poll of North Dakota voters by Trafalgar Group found Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp 9 points behind her Republican opponent, Kevin Cramer (including leaners). Heitkamp has lagged behind Kramer in the polls for a while, and Cramer’s odds of winning in our forecast have improved recently. As of Thursday afternoon, he had a 3 in 4 chance of winning.
The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, scored a 5-point lead against Democrat Phil Bredesen in an NBC News/Marist poll.
In the Texas Senate race, Republican Ted Cruz maintains a strong streak with a 5-point lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in a Quinnipiac University poll.
A Marquette University Law School poll found Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, tied with Democrat Tony Evers — both received 47 percent in support. As of Thursday afternoon, our forecast rated the seat as a “toss-up.”
43 percent of Americans said the #MeToo movement had gone too far, according to an NPR-Ipsos poll. Americans were more divided along party lines than by gender: The gap between Democrats and Republicans was 54 points (75 percent of Republicans said the movement had gone too far, compared with 21 percent of Democrats), while the gap between men and women was 15 points (51 percent of men vs. 36 percent of women).
60 percent of Massachusetts voters said Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry is “not at all important” to their vote in a WBUR poll conducted by MassINC polling.
Last week, NBC canceled Megyn Kelly’s talk show after she asked on the air why it was inappropriate for white people to dress up in blackface for Halloween. In a poll that was conducted before and after the cancellation, Morning Consult found that 45 percent of Americans thought that punishment would be “too harsh.” Only a quarter of respondents thought canceling her show would be appropriate. However, 42 percent of black Americans said cancellation would be appropriate.
A majority of Americans expressed a lack of confidence in U.S. election security, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say they’re confident that U.S. election systems are secure and less likely than Democrats to believe that Russia or other foreign governments will try to influence the midterm elections.

Trump approval

President Trump’s approval rating is 42.0 percent, according to our tracker. His disapproval rating is 53.2 percent. That makes for a net approval rating of -11.2 points — nearly 2 percentage points worse than last week’s rating of -9.4 points. One month ago, Trump’s net approval rating was -10.9 points (41.8 percent approved and 52.7 percent disapproved).
Generic ballot

Democrats have an 8.5-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot (50.3 percent to 41.8 percent), according to our tracker. Support hasn’t shifted much from a week ago, when Democrats were at 50.0 percent and Republicans were at 42.0 percent. One month ago, Democrats held about the same advantage, 49.4 percent to 41.0 percent.
Check out our 2018 House, Senate and governor forecasts and all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the midterms.

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*


Partisan Lean

Michael Enzi

James Risch

James Inhofe

Mike Rounds
South Dakota

Shelley Moore Capito
West Virginia

Lamar Alexander

Doug Jones

Tom Cotton

Ben Sasse

Pat Roberts

Mitch McConnell

Steve Daines

Bill Cassidy

Lindsey Graham
South Carolina

John Cornyn

Cindy Hyde-Smith†

Dan Sullivan

David Perdue

OPEN (Jon Kyl)^

Joni Ernst

Thom Tillis
North Carolina

Jeanne Shaheen
New Hampshire

Mark Warner

Gary Peters

Cory Gardner

Tina Smith†

Susan Collins

Tom Udall
New Mexico

Jeff Merkley

Dick Durbin

Cory Booker
New Jersey

Chris Coons

Jack Reed
Rhode Island

Ed Markey

* 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.

“Deluxe” model
2.5 point Dem. swing

North Dakota








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. pickups
Share of dem. pickups

Sparse Suburban

Dense Suburban



Pure Rural

Pure Urban


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

Sparse Suburban


Dense Suburban

Pure Rural


Pure Urban


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

Inc. status
cd Partisan Lean


Tom DeLay

Nick Lampson


Don Sherwood

Chris Carney


John Hostettler

Brad Ellsworth


Jim Ryun

Nancy Boyda


Mike Sodrel

Baron Hill


Steve Southerland

Gwen Graham


Bob Ney

Zack Space


Brad Schneider

Bob Dold


Charles Taylor

Heath Shuler


Vince Snowbarger

Dennis Moore


Mike Pappas

Rush Holt


J.D. Hayworth

Harry Mitchell


Mark Green
Ran for gov.

Steve Kagen


Henry Bonilla

Ciro Rodriguez


Mark Foley

Tim Mahoney


Dan Maffei

John Katko


Jim Bunning
Ran for Sen.

Ken Lucas


Melissa Hart

Jason Altmire


Chris Chocola

Joe Donnelly


Bruce Braley
Ran for Sen.

Rod Blum

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.