I first sat down to write about these Midterms during a cold January in Connecticut. After spring and summer updates, the weather now cools again. We’re just a fortnight away from determining which party will have control of each chamber in the next Congress.
Using my last two Midterms posts (hyperlinked above) as comparison points, the goal of “Two Weeks Out” is to see how things have moved only in the last few weeks. Much of the year’s data is now outdated. October momentum is king.
Let’s get into it. Today I’ll look at the House, tomorrow the Senate.
The House of Representatives
- Republicans: 235
- Democrats: 193
- Vacant: 7
- All are up for re-election
- Number of seats needed for a majority in the House: 218
- Number of seats Democrats must add for a majority: 25
- Number of seats Republicans can lose while retaining majority: 17
Let’s update the most important indicators we should be following, from least to most relevant.
3. The generic ballot (according to the Real Clear Politics average of major polls)
On Tuesday, October 9: Democrats 47.4, Republicans 40.8 (Dems +6.6)
On Tuesday, October 23: Democrats 48.8, Republicans 41.1 (Dems +7.7)
For the moment, the Democrats have stabilized their national numbers. At the Four Weeks Out mark, I noted that between September 5 and October 8, the Republicans’ 9-point deficit eroded to 6.6, and that if that slide continued, the Democrats would have been in big trouble. However, it looks like they’ve rebounded. While the Republican momentum stagnated, the Democratic trend over the last two weeks is positive.
That’s a good sign for the Democrats.
2. The President’s approval rating
On Tuesday, October 9: Approve: 43.6; Disapprove: 52.7 (-9.1)
On Tuesday, October 23: Approve: 44.2; Disapprove: 52.0 (-7.8)
As noted two weeks ago, his approval/disapproval splits have remained remarkably stable during his presidency. Nevertheless, the recent uptick has continued. In fact, aside from a random week in June (when for four glorious days he was only 7.4 points under water), you’d have to go all the way back to March 21, 2017 — just two months into his administration! — to find the last time he was this “popular.”
In other words: he’s getting to where he needs to be for the House election to not turn into a bloodbath for the GOP. (Notably, the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found him more popular than President Obama at this point of his presidency.) What’s more, if he can arrive at 48 or 49 percent by Election Day, he gives his party a chance to keep the House and perhaps permanently forestall his own impeachment.
Still, if history is any indication (and the Age of Trump shows that it might not be), his work isn’t done yet. He still need a couple more ticks in the right direction. Consider this wonderfully organized chart from Gallup, which lists presidential approval numbers alongside seats gained or lost by the president’s party in a midterm:
Every President under 50 percent lost seats, but the degree to which they lost them usually correlated to how far under 50 percent they were. Trump’s closest comparables are likely to be Obama 2006 (45 percent), Clinton 1994 (48), and Carter 1978 (49 percent). The least popular of the three, Obama, lost 63 House seats. In the middle was Clinton, who lost 52. Carter, however, was close enough to 50 percent that he lost only 15. (Other presidents in the 40s — Truman, Johnson, and Reagan — all lost at least 26.) This time around, the GOP can lose up to 17 seats to keep the House, so a Carteresque 49 percent looks like Trump’s target number.
So monitor that approval number: has it reached its peak, or does the President still have the lung capacity to gain more altitude?
1. The District Breakdown
In two weeks there is remarkably little movement in these numbers. I still think the easiest way to frame it as as follows:
- It’s a race to 218.
- Each side starts with those bottom line numbers (enlarged). So the Democrats are at 194 and need 24 more, while the Republicans are at 169 and need 49 more.
- They’re competing over the highlighted numbers — 72 seats in total. Republicans are at the advantage in those 72, but needing to win 49 out of the 72 is a tall order unless the President climbs a few more precious points. If he does, I’d chalk nearly every one of those 27 leaners to the Republicans, and then they’re the favorites to reach 218.
Two Week Out Prediction for the House: As of now, Democrats still cling to their status as House favorites, but their confidence should be dwindling.
Senate tomorrow! See you then.