Six Days Out: Closing in on a House Prediction

The end is in sight! November 8 is less than a week away! You’re going to make it.

My final 2022 Midterms prediction for both chambers will come on Tuesday’s Election Day. In order to keep that post reasonably sized, I’ll separate my final deep analyses of the House (today) and the Senate (I think Sunday). Then, on Tuesday, I can hopefully just reference those posts and use any new developments of the final couple days to lock in my final predictions that morning.

So today, it’s all about the House.


Back on August 10, 2021, I tweeted the following:

For the gambling impaired, “+144” means a $100 bet would win you that hundred plus $144, more than doubling your money. The bigger the plus number, the bigger the underdog — and the more money you could win. The +450 means a $100 bet would win you that hundred plus $450. (If you ever see a minus sign in front, like a -150, that means you would have to wager $150 to win $100. Those occur when you’re betting on a favorite. The bigger the minus number, the bigger the favorite, and the more you have to wager just to win $100. Now you know.)

Those were indeed smart value bets (although Tuesday’s results will determine if they were lucrative ones). According to Oddschecker.com, a Republican sweep is now a -185 favorite (meaning you’d have to bet $185 to win $100 back), and the Republican House/Democratic Senate payout is down to just +280.

So how did I know? Because history. As I’ve discussed at several points throughout the year:

  • Midterms are almost always ugly for the sitting president’s party, usually with double-digit losses in Congress.
  • Midterms generally favor Republicans, whose voters more consistent show up, giving them extra value in midterms, when general turnout is down.
  • Democrats’ pads on the majority of each chamber are tiny (just 4 seats in the House and 0 seats in the Senate), so even if the above two trends dampened, Republicans would still make enough gains to flip both chambers of Congress.

Although some unique circumstances have kept alive Democrats’ chances in the Senate, the House, as a better reflection of the national political climate, was always going to be the more arduous uphill climb. If they had any chance to win, they were going to want to see good results in my big three predictive “indicators”:

  • A) President Biden’s approval rating;
  • B) The generic ballot; and
  • C) A Congressional district breakdown

So let’s take our penultimate look at each one.

A) President Biden’s approval rating

The only presidents who withstand the pattern of midterms badly hurting their party are the ones with popularity up past 60 percent. Gallup found that in the last 75 years, only the two most popular presidents, as of a midterm election, gained seats in the House, and no president under 58% approval was able to keep losses to single digits:

This chart does not include the President Trump midterm, when he was at just 40% approval in Gallup’s last pre-midterm poll and 43 percent in the Real Clear Politics average before the GOP lost 41 House seats, very much furthering the trend from the chart.

Outside of Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002, who each had, for very different reasons (Merriam Webster classifies the Monica Lewinsky scandal and 9/11 terrorist attacks as antonyms), approval from about two-thirds of the country, no other president would have been able to maintain the currently razor-thin Democratic majority in the House. Elected in 2020 with only 222 seats, House Democrats can afford to lose only four to stay at or above 218, the minimum number needed for the majority of the chamber’s 435 seats.

President Biden, simply put, isn’t anywhere near where he needs to be to protect the party from losing the chamber. The Real Clear Politics polling average has him at 42.8, and the FiveThirtyEight polling average, which tries to adjust for pollsters’ historical accuracy and house effects, has him at 42.4. Gallup has him at 40%, right where Trump was before his party lost 41 seats in 2018. Yikes.

B) The generic ballot

There’s a reasonable counterargument that says Biden isn’t actually on the ballot. Some voters may well disapprove of Biden while also voting for Democrats in Congressional elections, a discernment we must consider despite the instinctive behaviors of the typical American partisan.

There are surely some voters who think like that, but are there enough? It doesn’t appear so. Republicans hold a 2.8-point edge in the RCP generic ballot average.

What does a 2.8-point edge in the generic ballot translate to, though? For an answer, I thought I’d take a look at the final RCP averages and results of all the midterms since the last anomalous one in 2002. That means looking at 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 polling and the final results of the election. I also want to factor in momentum for either side in the closing month, so I’ll also chart where the generic ballot stood 30 days before the election. All of the above gives us insight into A) How accurate the polling was, and B) How a generic ballot translated into House seats.

Voila:

First of all, we see that in all four of these midterms, one party dominated, and it was always the party not in the White House. This pattern will continue on Tuesday.

In the last two midterms, we further see that one party closes well on their way to a big win, although we mustn’t read too much into two data points. After all, in the two midterms before that the losing party actually closed the gap down the stretch.

We also see an infrastructural advantage for the GOP in the House (although not nearly as prominent as there is in the Senate). As reflected through the the national House popular vote, Democrats won the 2006 and 2018 midterms by more than Republicans won in 2010 and 2014, but Republicans won more House seats in each of their wins than Democrats did in each of theirs.

Finally and perhaps most relevantly, of these four elections, it appears that 2014 is the best predecessor to 2022. In 2014, we saw a polling lead pushing from 2 to 3 points for the GOP, and the actual House popular vote had them winning by nearly 6. That fits the pattern we’re currently seeing:

And, I’m not sure whether to call it a coincidence or not, but on Election Day in 2014, President Obama’s RCP average approval rating was about 42%, just like President Biden’s is now.

So with 2014 as our guidepost, it looks to me like Republicans are heading toward 240 seats. Let’s see if our third indicator agrees…

C) A Congressional district breakdown

If we set aside the generic ballot and look at more granular data, we see the GOP is well ahead there, too. Here’s the Cook Report’s breakdown of the 435 House races:

In the race to 218, Republicans start with 29 more “solid” seats. If we lump in “likely” seats, it’s a 199 to 172 advantage with 64 competitive seats remaining (the “lean” and “toss up” seats). With undecided voters breaking toward the GOP, I think it’s reasonable to say Republicans win two-thirds of those competitive seats, putting them at just about 240.

Six days before my official predictions, PPFA currently estimates Republicans 240, Democrats 195.


But let me ask you something. If the Democrats kept control of the House, despite all the indicators pointing in the other direction, would that be more shocking than when Donald Trump became President of the United States six years ago? I think most people would say no.

Soon, I’ll explore the possibility that the Democrats might actually win — and how we’d reconcile that result with the above indicators. I hope to see you then.

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