Today FiveThirtyEight released its third and final forecast of the 2020 election: our forecast for the House. And while Democrats are slight favorites to flip the Senate and Joe Biden is a solid-but-not-overwhelming front-runner for the presidency, Democrats have between a 92 and 97 percent chance of keeping control of the House.
The reason I’m giving a range is that, as in 2018, there are three versions of our House model.
- The Lite version relies primarily on polling. It gives Democrats a 97 in 100 chance of winning the House. On average, it projects Democrats to win 244 seats and Republicans to win 191 seats — an 11-seat gain for Democrats.
- The Classic version blends polls with fundamentals like partisanship, incumbency advantages and candidates’ fundraising. It gives Democrats a 93 in 100 chance of winning the House. On average, it projects Democrats to win 238 seats and Republicans to win 197 seats — a smaller five-seat gain for Democrats.
- The Deluxe version has the most bells and whistles: It incorporates polls, fundamentals and expert ratings from The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. It gives Democrats a 93 in 100 chance of winning the House. On average, it projects Democrats to win 237 seats and Republicans to win 198 seats — a four-seat gain for Democrats.
We consider the Deluxe version to be the default version of our congressional forecast, so all forecast numbers from here on out are from the Deluxe version of the model. However, you can always explore the other versions by using the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of our forecast page. And if you want to know all the gory details about how the model works, check out our forecast methodology.
All three versions more or less agree, though, that Democrats will essentially stand pat in the House or pick up a few extra seats. That’s an impressive achievement considering the heights they reached in the 2018 midterms, when they scored a 235-199 majority despite a congressional map that favored the GOP.
Now, Democrats must defend 30 seats in districts won by President Trump in 2016 (as opposed to only six Republicans who sit in districts that Hillary Clinton carried). Yet Democrats are on offense once again this year: 28 of the 50 House districts that the Deluxe version of our model considers most likely to change parties are held by Republicans.
There are a few explanations for why Democrats still have room to grow. The first is that they are virtually guaranteed to flip two seats right off the bat thanks to redistricting. After a court declared in 2019 that North Carolina’s old congressional lines showed signs of “extreme partisan gerrymandering,” the state legislature passed a new map that reconfigured two Republican-held seats as Democratic strongholds: the 2nd District and 6th District. Their current occupants, Reps. George Holding and Mark Walker, announced they would retire from Congress soon after, and now the seats are Democrats’ two best pickup opportunities in the entire nation. Our model gives the party a greater than 99 in 100 chance of winning both races.
Another is that, though Democrats picked most of the low-hanging fruit in 2018, there are still a few easy pickup opportunities left: That is, there are a few Clinton districts still represented by Republicans. In Texas’s 23rd District, Rep. Will Hurd defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones by just 0.4 points in 2018, but this year, Hurd was one of many Texas Republicans who decided to retire. As a result, Jones (who is running again) has a 74 in 100 chance to win in 2020 against Republican Tony Gonzales. And Democrats did win California’s 25th District in 2018, but a sex scandal forced Rep. Katie Hill to resign, and Republican Mike Garcia flipped the seat back in a special election. Our model considers the rubber match to be a toss-up, giving Democrats a 56 in 100 shot. Finally, Democrats aren’t in quite as good a position to defeat Rep. John Katko in New York’s 24th District, but Democrat Dana Balter still has a 33 in 100 chance. (The one Republican in a Clinton district who seems pretty safe is Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania’s 1st District; with an 89 in 100 chance to win, he doesn’t even make the table above.)
But the biggest factor may be the continued leftward march of American suburbs. After Democrats cleaned house in the suburbs in 2018 — three-quarters of their 2018 gains came in predominantly suburban congressional districts — they are back this year for the many suburban districts they left on the table. Their best such pickup opportunity is New York’s 2nd, a dense suburban district on Long Island where Republican Rep. Peter King is retiring after surviving his closest electoral call since 1992. Our forecast gives Democrat Jackie Gordon a 59 in 100 chance of victory there. Republican Rep. Susan Brooks is also retiring from Indiana’s 5th District, which covers the northern Indianapolis suburbs and went from voting for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by 17 points in 2012 to narrowly voting for Democrat Joe Donnelly in the state’s 2018 Senate election. The race to replace her is almost a pure toss-up.
Similarly, Georgia’s 7th District, a suburban Atlanta district that Romney carried by 22 points, hosted the closest House race in the country in 2018. Republican Rep. Rob Woodall opted to retire (sensing a pattern?), and now Democrats have a 45 in 100 chance to win it in 2020. I could go on — Democrats have between a 30 and 40 percent shot in Nebraska’s 2nd District in metro Omaha, Texas’s 24th District in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth and Ohio’s 1st District around Cincinnati — but my editor does put word counts on these things.
Of course, Republicans have pickup opportunities too. They’re favorites to flip just three House seats vs. Democrats’ five. And their likeliest win would represent the end of an era in the House: Republican Michelle Fischbach has a 74 in 100 chance to defeat Rep. Collin Peterson, the powerful chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Peterson represents by far the Trumpiest district currently held by a Democrat — the Minnesota 7th voted for Trump by 31 percentage points in 2016. While Peterson’s conservative views have helped him survive in recent election cycles, the district is getting redder and split-ticket voting is becoming rarer.
Another likely Republican pickup is a seat the party held until July 4, 2019, when Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan’s 3rd District announced he was leaving the GOP. Facing a difficult reelection bid as a third-party candidate, Amash has since decided to retire, and Republican Peter Meijer now has a 68 in 100 chance of taking the seat back for the GOP. (That said, Democrats also have a 32 in 100 chance to flip the seat into their column.)
Republicans have also set their sights on winning back several House seats they lost in 2018, although our model thinks they’re favored in only one — and even then, just barely. Oklahoma’s 5th District produced the biggest upset of 2018 (according to the Deluxe version of our 2018 model), as Democrat Kendra Horn prevailed in a district that voted for Trump by 13 points in 2016. Here in 2020, Horn (49 in 100) and Republican Stephanie Bice (51 in 100) have almost the exact same chance of winning the seat. Also too close to call is California’s 21st District, where Republican former Rep. David Valadao is seeking a comeback in a district he lost by just 862 votes in 2018. Although Clinton won this district by 16 points, it is more Republican in down-ballot races, and Valadao has a 48 in 100 chance of winning. Finally, Republicans are almost even money to defeat Rep. Joe Cunningham in South Carolina’s 1st District, which also voted for Trump by 13 points in 2016. Republican Nancy Mace has a 46 in 100 chance of victory here.
Beyond those seats, Republicans have a fighting chance in several other Democrat-held districts whose names you might recall from 2018: the Georgia 6th, New York 22nd, Iowa 2nd, California 48th, New Mexico 2nd, Utah 4th, New York 11th, Texas 7th, New Jersey 7th, California 39th, Florida 26th and Nevada 4th, to name (more than) a few. But they are clearer underdogs in these races. And they would need to win all of the races I have mentioned in the last four paragraphs — without surrendering a single other seat to Democrats — in order to flip the 17 seats they need to attain a House majority.
That, in a nutshell, is why it’s exceedingly unlikely that Republicans will take back the House. Who wins, though, is still extremely important to the governing process in the next two years. Along with the presidency and Senate, the House is one-third of the federal lawmaking process, and controlling all three is a valuable prize: It enables a party to pass its agenda without needing to win over any members of the opposite party. And now that we have a House forecast, we can combine it with our Senate and presidential forecasts to determine the odds that either Democrats or Republicans will have full control of the federal government.
As you can see in the table, the likeliest scenario is that Democrats will win full control of the federal government: There’s a 63 in 100 chance of that happening. That could have big consequences for policy, too, as it would open the door for Democrats to pass party priorities such as a public option for health insurance, police reform, election reforms like those in H.R. 1, and even statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — assuming they can overcome internal divisions over things like abolishing the Senate filibuster.
But there is also a good chance (31 in 100) that we will once again have a divided government in Washington, in which case little will probably get done. (The likeliest divided-government scenario involves Biden as president, a Democratic House and a Republican Senate.)
However, because of their long odds in our House forecast, Republicans have only a 5 in 100 chance of winning a trifecta of their own. And that’s a fairly stunning reversal of fortune considering that Republicans enjoyed full control of the federal government as recently as 2018.
CORRECTION (Oct. 8, 2020, 10:27 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly included “Ortiz” as part of Gina Ortiz Jones’s last name. Her last name is just Jones.