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Final Forecast: Democrats Are Clear Favorites To Maintain Control Of The House

In 2018, Democrats took back the House thanks to a blue wave that ran right through America’s suburbs. Now the question is, can they hold onto that majority?

The answer is probably yes, as Democrats are clear favorites, according to the final version of FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast, which gives them a 97 in 100 chance of winning control of the House.1

Overall, the House contest appears to have significantly less drama than either the race for the presidency or the Senate, both of which are far more competitive. Democrats currently control 233 seats to the GOP’s 201 seats,2 with retiring Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash the lone third-party member in the chamber. So to win back the House, Republicans need a net gain of 17 seats to achieve a majority of 218, which is one reason why their odds of taking back the chamber are so low (3 in 100). That’s a lot of House seats in a presidential cycle, as a party has only gained that many twice in the past 10 presidential elections.



Be Wary Of Exit Polls This Year (Well, And All Years) | FiveThirtyEight

But perhaps the even bigger reason why Democrats are favored to keep control of the House — as well as maybe win the White House and even the Senate — is that the electoral environment looks quite good for their party. If we look at the polling average from our congressional generic ballot tracker, which includes all polls that ask respondents whether they plan to vote for the Democrat or Republican in their local congressional race, Democrats lead by 7.3 percentage points. That margin speaks to a strong national environment for Democrats and isn’t that far off from the 8.7-point edge Democrats had heading into the 2018 midterm elections. And as the chart below shows, this lead hasn’t fluctuated much over the past year.

What this has meant practically is that the overall electoral environment has boosted the chances of House Democrats, but most notably it’s given a leg up to those who captured Republican seats in 2018 and are now seeking reelection. Of the 41 Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 — not counting one who resigned and another who switched parties — 30 have at least a 3 in 4 shot of holding onto their seat. This despite the fact that President Trump carried 20 of those 41 seats when he won in 2016. These conditions, along with strong Democratic fundraising and mediocre Republican candidate recruitment in many key races, have left a pretty short list of Democratic incumbents who are in serious danger of defeat, as the table below shows.

Most House Democrats in competitive races have good odds

Democratic House incumbents who are seeking reelection and have less than a 95 percent chance of winning, according to the final numbers from the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s forecast

District Incumbent Flipped GOP seat in 2018 Chance of winning Rating
MN-07 Collin Peterson 19% Likely R
OK-05 Kendra Horn 51 Toss-up
NM-02 Xochitl Torres Small 55 Toss-up
UT-04 Ben McAdams 56 Toss-up
CA-21 TJ Cox 58 Toss-up
NY-11 Max Rose 58 Toss-up
SC-01 Joe Cunningham 64 Lean D
CA-48 Harley Rouda 68 Lean D
NV-04 Steven Horsford 72 Lean D
NY-22 Anthony Brindisi 73 Lean D
CA-39 Gil Cisneros 74 Lean D
GA-06 Lucy McBath 74 Lean D
TX-07 Lizzie Pannill Fletcher 75 Lean D
NJ-07 Tom Malinowki 76 Likely D
OR-04 Peter DeFazio 78 Likely D
VA-07 Abigail Spanberger 79 Likely D
FL-27 Donna Shalala 81 Likely D
FL-26 Debbie Mucarsel-Powell 82 Likely D
NV-03 Susie Lee 83 Likely D
NH-01 Chris Pappas 84 Likely D
TX-32 Colin Allred 84 Likely D
WI-03 Ron Kind 84 Likely D
IA-03 Cindy Axne 84 Likely D
IL-06 Sean Casten 87 Likely D
VA-02 Elaine Luria 87 Likely D
IL-14 Lauren Underwood 87 Likely D
IA-01 Abby Finkenauer 87 Likely D
AZ-01 Tom O’Halleran 88 Likely D
PA-17 Conor Lamb 89 Likely D
CA-10 Josh Harder 92 Likely D
PA-08 Matt Cartwright 92 Likely D
MI-11 Haley Stevens 93 Likely D
NJ-03 Andy Kim 93 Likely D
MN-02 Angie Craig 93 Likely D
CA-45 Katie Porter 94 Likely D
NC-01 G.K. Butterfield 94 Likely D
MI-08 Elissa Slotkin 94 Likely D
NY-19 Antonio Delgado 94 Likely D

In other words, these seemingly more competitive seats are, for the most part, not necessarily that close, which limits the GOP’s path back to a majority. Nevertheless, a handful of Democratic incumbents are in jeopardy of losing. In fact, the most vulnerable incumbent from either party is Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who has about a 1 in 5 chance of winning reelection in a seat that Trump won by 31 points four years ago, according to Daily Kos Elections. Beyond Peterson, five other Democrats fall into the “toss-up” range in our forecast: Reps. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, TJ Cox of California, Max Rose of New York, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and Ben McAdams of Utah. Of that quintet, Cox is the outlier because he’s the only one running in a seat that is pretty Democratic-leaning at the presidential level — Trump lost it by 16 points in 2016 — whereas the others all hold seats Trump won by at least 7 points. But Cox’s seat is probably one of the better candidate recruitment situations for the GOP, as ex-Rep. David Valadao, who Cox defeated by less than 1 point in 2018, is back for a rematch.

Aside from the strength of their incumbents, Democrats have also benefited from the sheer number of Republican retirements this year. Not to mention, some GOP primary challenges that resulted in some incumbents losing renomination. Although the incumbency advantage is not nearly as strong as it once was, open seats tend to be harder for the incumbent party to retain, and the disproportionate number of Republican exits from the House has left some vulnerable turf for them to defend. As the table below shows, this means Republicans are defending almost all of the 17 open seats where neither party is a safe bet.

Republicans are defending more competitive open seats

Democratic chances of victory in open House seats where the incumbent party has less than a 95 percent chance of winning, according to the final numbers from the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s forecast

District Incumbent Party Dem. chances Rating
NC-02 R 100% Safe D
NC-06 R 100 Safe D
IA-02 D 88 Likely D
TX-23 R 74 Lean D
NY-02 R 57 Toss-up
IN-05 R 50 Toss-up
VA-05 R 49 Toss-up
TX-24 R 48 Toss-up
MI-03 L 44 Toss-up
GA-07 R 43 Toss-up
CO-03 R 39 Lean R
TX-22 R 32 Lean R
NC-11 R 27 Lean R
MT-AL R 23 Likely R
FL-15 R 19 Likely R
KS-02 R 9 Likely R
CA-50 R 5 Likely R

While Democrats are only outright favorites in three GOP-held seats, that trio account for half of the six seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 that Republicans still control (GOP incumbents are running in the other three). Two are near-certain Democratic pickups thanks to North Carolina’s court-ordered redistricting, which made those seats much more Democratic-leaning and precipitated the retirements of two Republican incumbents. And Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s retirement in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, which Trump lost by 3 points in 2016, has given Democratic nominee Gina Ortiz Jones a clear edge there. Additionally, Democrats are roughly even bets to win a number of other open Republican-held districts, including suburban seats like Indiana’s 5th Congressional District around Indianapolis and New York’s 2nd Congressional District on Long Island, both left open by retirements. They also have a shot at winning GOP-controlled seats where the incumbent lost renomination, such as Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. What’s more, only one Democratic-held open seat — Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District — is at all in play, and the Democrats have nearly a 9 in 10 chance of keeping it.

Lastly, Democrats are also in an enviable position because they stand to defeat some Republican incumbents in competitive contests, too. Whereas only 13 Democratic incumbents seeking reelection have less than a 3 in 4 chance of winning reelection, slightly more Republicans — 14 — are in the same position. Still, the one silver lining for Republicans is that none of their incumbents is a clear underdog, as the table below shows. So most of these races might be a bit of a reach for Democrats hoping to pad their margins.

House Republicans whose seats aren’t “safe”

Republican House incumbents who are seeking reelection and have less than a 95 percent chance of winning, according to the final numbers from the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s forecast

District Incumbent Chance of winning Rating
CA-25 Mike Garcia 45% Toss-up
NJ-02 Jeff Van Drew 50 Toss-up
PA-10 Scott Perry 52 Toss-up
AZ-06 David Schweikert 57 Toss-up
OH-01 Steve Chabot 58 Toss-up
MN-01 Jim Hagedorn 60 Lean R
NE-02 Don Bacon 60 Lean R
IL-13 Rodney Davis 63 Lean R
NY-24 John Katko 64 Lean R
NC-08 Richard Hudson 66 Lean R
AR-02 French Hill 66 Lean R
MO-02 Ann Wagner 69 Lean R
TX-21 Chip Roy 71 Lean R
MI-06 Fred Upton 71 Lean R
AK-AL Don Young 79 Likely R
WA-03 Jaime Herrera Beutler 82 Likely R
PA-01 Brian Fitzpatrick 84 Likely R
KY-06 Andy Barr 85 Likely R
NY-01 Lee Zeldin 86 Likely R
TX-25 Roger Williams 89 Likely R
NC-09 Dan Bishop 90 Likely R
MI-07 Tim Walberg 90 Likely R
FL-16 Vern Buchanan 90 Likely R
TX-03 Van Tayor 90 Likely R
OH-10 Mike Turner 91 Likely R
TX-10 Michael McCaul 92 Likely R
TX-06 Ron Wright 92 Likely R
FL-18 Brian Mast 93 Likely R
VA-01 Rob Wittman 93 Likely R
CA-42 Ken Calvert 93 Likely R
TX-31 John Carter 94 Likely R
OH-12 Troy Balderson 94 Likely R
MN-08 Pete Stauber 95 Likely R

GOP Rep. Mike Garcia, who won a special election earlier this year to fill a vacancy in California’s 25th Congressional District, heads into the election as the most at-risk Republican incumbent. But along with Garcia are four others in toss-up contests: Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, David Schweikert of Arizona and Don Bacon of Nebraska. Van Drew won as a Democrat in 2018 but switched parties after voting against impeaching Trump, probably thinking he’d have an easier time as a Republican in a district that backed Trump by about 5 points in 2016, but the race is super close and he’s been outraised by Democrat Amy Kennedy — yes, part of that Kennedy family. Bacon, meanwhile, is defending a seat that could also matter a great deal in the presidential race because Nebraska apportions one electoral vote to each of its congressional districts, and its 2nd Congressional District is somewhat more likely to vote for Biden than Trump.

Bottom line: Democrats have benefited from an overall Democratic-leaning national environment, in addition to a number of strong Democratic incumbents, a sizable number of competitive Republican-held open seats and some vulnerable GOP officeholders. There’s no fuzziness here in what our forecast says: Democrats are in a very strong position to maintain control of the House. We’ll see how it plays out once the votes are counted, but a Democratic hold would be one of the more unsurprising outcomes in this election.

 

Footnotes

  1. This and all numbers in this article are based on the Deluxe version of our forecast, which is the default version of our congressional forecasts this year; the Lite and Classic versions are very similar, though, giving Democrats a 98 in 100 and 96 in 100 chance, respectively.

  2. These totals include vacant seats that each party previously held. For Republicans, that includes four seats: California’s 50th Congressional District, Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District and Texas’s 4th Congressional District. For Democrats, that includes one seat: Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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