Blue Wave in the House
By Keana Rose Hilario ’20
As the U.S. midterm elections rapidly approach, American citizens prepare to eagerly cast ballots for the candidates they desire to hold office. These elected officials will have an impact on President Donald Trump’s next two years in office. Interestingly, many see an increase in support for the Democratic Party, and polls forecast Democratic victories in many upcoming races.
“What I’m seeing, with the exception of a handful of states, in state after state are huge increases in Democratic turnout relative to the increase in Republican turnout, when you look at 2014 versus 2018 turnout,” Republican pollster John Couvillan recently stated in an National Public Radio article. Couvillan, who has studied primary turnout for several election cycles, noted, “From looking at primary turnout as evidence of partisan enthusiasm, I’m seeing it on the Democratic side,”
The question remains: Is it possible for a Democratic wave to occur in the 2018 midterms?
An election analysis by Politico.com suggests that the U.S. House of Representatives leans Democratic while the U.S. Senate leans Republican. Based on historical trends, latest polling data, each parties’ campaign strategies, and extensive reports, the analysis measures the likelihood of both parties’ victories on a 7-point scale: Solid Democratic, Likely Democratic, Lean Democrat, Toss-up, Lean Republic, Likely Republican, Solid Republican.
In the House, the analysis seems to suggest that 172 seats are Solid Democratic while 135 seats are Solid Republican; 20 are Likely Democratic while 37 are Likely Republican, and 17 are Lean Democratic while 28 are Lean Republican. In total, there will most likely be 209 Democratic seats and 200 Republican seats, according to Politico.
On the other hand, the analysis indicates that 22 Democratic seats and 8 Republican seats may constitute the final results of the Senate’s midterms with 5 Toss-up seats. Currently, there are 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 Independents. Therefore, only one-third of the Senate is being challenged.
One factor on why Democrats are considered in the lead to dominate the House has to do with presidential popularity. Generally, when the public favors the current president, the president’s party tends to do well in the midterms. When the public disapproves of the president, the president’s party tends to do worse in the midterms. In this case, President Trump has had historically low approval ratings.
According to research by Peter A. Batemen and Peter Enns from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, the president’s ratings are 10 percentage points below those of then-President Barack Obama during the 2010 midterm elections. Moreover, Trump’s highest rating is below the lowest rating of the four previous presidents; his approval ratings have stayed constant throughout his time in office, and worse, people report “strongly disapprove” than ratings of “approve” and “strongly approved” combined. Hence, Democrats are most likely to have an “energized” base, as Professor Enns stated in a Fox News article, and that translates to a Democratic lead for the House election while the GOP lags behind due to President Trump’s popularity.
Although congressional districts vary by interests and identity, a generic ballot has proven to be a surprisingly accurate indicator of the midterm possible outcomes. The generic ballot is essentially a poll asking voters whether they would choose a Republican or a Democrat, nameless and faceless. In 1958, 1982, and 2006, the generic ballot indicated that the Democrats were at an advantage before the actual blue wave swept in. On the other hand, 1994, 2010, and 2014 signaled that the Democratic advantage was in low single digits, leading to a Republican wave in the midterms. Lately, the RealClearPolitics poll for the 2018 Generic Congressional Poll suggests that, on average, Democrats are favored by 48.8 percent of the public while Republicans are favored by 41.1 percent. As of this point in time, Democrats appear to have the upper hand in gaining a House majority.
Campaign fundraising also often reflects enthusiasm for a candidate. Usually, incumbent candidates are able to raise more money as a result of being in power and readily able to create policies in favor of their supporters, such as businesses and individual interests. On the other hand, challengers (candidates opposing the incumbent) are often a tricky bet and, therefore, at a fundraising disadvantage. This year, however, Democratic challengers have outraised 56 GOP incumbents. NBC News reports that in comparison to the $470 million that the Republican House candidates have raised, the Democratic equivalents have raised $620 million. High numbers in fundraising convert into high levels for party enthusiasm; therefore, the Democratic party gaining more money than the GOP party in the House elections demonstrates a possible Democratic advantage of a wave.
This year has also shown the highest number of retirements among GOP elected officials — a record 28 incumbents are leaving office. Incumbents typically have more campaign cash and are reelected. However, with a high number of retirements, the open seats are now contested in a fair playing field between the Democratic and Republican candidates. Furthermore, some incumbents have been forcibly retired by grass-roots challengers in the primaries. With so many open seats in the House and a general enthusiasm for the Democratic party disclosed by high figures in generic polls and campaign fundraising, it is plausible that the Democratic party may experience a wave in this upcoming midterm election.
House Democrats only need a net gain of 24 seats. However, any number of possible setbacks may block Democrats from gaining a House majority. For example, some Democratic strategists fear that voters who dislike President Trump but live in historically Republican districts will not vote Democratic, but instead will stick to their Republican inclinations. Furthermore, strategists also worry that very progressive candidates in moderate suburban districts will alienate more fiscally conservative voters in those areas. Even more so,“first-time candidates” represent a higher risk because they lack experience.
Finally, there’s always the possibility of an unforeseeable crisis. How President Trump handles the situation may shape, for the better or for the worse, the public’s opinion. Of course, neither the election nor its outcomes have happened yet, so there is no definite answer as to who the voters will choose. The only answer ultimately rests with the country’s voters, who will cast ballots in November and shape the rest of American history.
Featured Image: graphic by Rebecca Chen ’22