One Week Out: The Race for the House

(I’m back!) (For a week, anyway.)

In one week, we’ll have what we’ve traditionally called “Election Night.” However, as has become the theme of 2020, things will now be… different.

It’s now appropriate to re-label that precious evening over which and during which many of us lose sleep. The fact is that Election Night is no longer just one night. People have been voting for weeks, and then, after Election Night, we can expect to count votes for weeks. No, it’s not Election Night. It’s the Election Season.

This Election Season will determine all 435 members of the US House of Representatives, 35 members in the US Senate, and the one member who will be sworn in as president on January 20, 2021. The political direction of our country for the next two to four years will be determined, but what direction will that be?

I’m glad you asked.

Let’s take a look at the race to control these three pieces of the federal government. I’ll start by looking at the the House of Representatives, a chamber I haven’t examined since my fairly accurate midterm prediction two years ago. The House looks like the safest bet of this election, so it’s a good place to start. As the week progresses, I’ll look at the race for the Senate and presidency as well.

The House of Representatives

Current Composition: Democrats 232, Republicans 197, Libertarian 1 (outgoing Congressman Justin Amash), 5 Vacant

Number needed for majority: 218

The math to earn the majority: Democrats can lose 14 and still retain the majority. Republicans must pick up 21 to win back the majority

The Real Clear Politics generic ballot average:

  • Election day polling, 2018: Democrats 49.7, Republicans 42.4 (Dems +7.3)
  • Election day 2018, actual results: Democrats 53.3, Republicans 44.9 (Dems + 8.4)
  • Current polling, 2020: Democrats 49.6, Republicans 43.0 (Dems +6.6)
  • The generic ballot trend over the last 30 days:

It’s looking like status quo. We see that the 2018 generic ballot was pretty accurate, with Democrats performing a point better nationally than they did in their polling. Meanwhile, their current generic ballot lead looks safe as the party’s popularity has slowly climbed over the last month.

Of course, the generic ballot, though its prediction of a Democratic wave in 2018 was accurate, can only tell us so much. The race for the House is not a single national election, but many simultaneous elections across the country’s 435 Congressional districts. Does the Democratic lead hold up under this more granular inspection?

The short answer is yes. However, if you know anything about PPFA, it’s that I think anyone who gives an answer in one word when they could have used 800 is just not trying hard enough.

The district breakdown:

The consistently accurate Cook Report monitors House elections for us. It finds the Democratic Party at a huge advantage with a week to go:

The Dems start at a 191 to 153 lead over the GOP in the “Safe” category, with 91 seats remaining. It’s reasonable to allot each side their next shade — the “Likely” wins — giving the Democrats a 209 to 166 lead with these 60 seats remaining:

Blue seats are currently held by Democrats, red by Republicans. Italicized names are freshman Representatives.

For Republicans to get to 218 at that point, they’d need to win 52 of those 60 seats, while Democrats would only need to win 9. And, as we see on the bar and the list, 19 of these competitive seats already lean in the Democratic direction, and then there’s another 26 toss-ups for them to win on top of that, with most of those 26 offering opportunities for Democrats to flip some seats.

Frankly, the question isn’t which party wins the House. The question is: how large will the Democrats’ majority be?

As of now, using only probabilistics, we may hypothesize that the remaining 60 seats would break fairly close to evenly, perhaps with a tilt toward the Ds since more seats “Lean” toward them (19) than lead toward the Rs (13). Therefore, just for the sake of arriving at a simplified, one-week-out number, let us give to the Democrats 31 of the competitive seats and Republicans the other 29. (In practice, of course, momentum over this last week will slide these numbers in one direction or the other.) That gives us a grand total of Democrats 240, Republicans 195, which would be a pick-up of eight seats for the Dems and a two-seat loss for the GOP.

All right, that’s it for now. Ahead of us this week: the presidency and the Senate. I hope to see you then.

10 thoughts on “One Week Out: The Race for the House”

  1. Ok, AP Government man, riddle me this: when and how does the current census impact these house seats? Will they be reallocated for 2022 and whose administration gets to interpret/decide?


    1. Jason: yes, Congressional reapportionment goes into effect in the first federal election after a census year, so in this case it’ll be 2022.

      Mercifully, reallocation is controlled by a computation, not subjectivity:

      Once the computer spits out the reapportionment, state governments, if redistricting is necessary, get to determine the new borders of their state’s new Congressional districts.


  2. […] Yesterday, I determined that the safest bet of this election was that the House of Representatives stays in Democratic hands. In contrast, I wouldn’t feel confident wagering on the the presidential and Senate results. Of the two, I feel more confident — or, that is, less unconfident — in the presidential race, so today it is on that race I’ll focus. Later this week, I’ll look at the scramble for the Senate. […]


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