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It’s mostly quiet on the House front

- October 14, 2014


The Republican majority in House is apparently not at-risk this election cycle.  Whether you ask a variety of political scientists, other professional politics watchers like those at the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, or take a peek into Sabato’s Crystal Ball, no one gives the Democrats more than a black swan’s chance at retaking control of the House.
The same is true at Election Lab where we give the Republicans a better than 99 percent chance of continuing to control the House after the 2014 elections, a prediction not too different from our initial forecast last December.  In fact in our 1,000 simulations of party control this week, the Republicans won a majority of the 435 seats in every single one.
Graph--aggregate outcomes--new
The simulations produce a median prediction of 241 Republican seats, which is almost identical to our prediction of 239 seats back in April.  However, because of the additional information included in the model, like fundraising figures and polls, the range of predictions is narrower.  Ninety percent of the simulations produce a predicted number of Republican seats between 235 and 249.  Thus whereas in April we gave the Republicans a 24 percent chance of passing their post-World War II high-water mark of 246 seats (won in 1946), we now view that as somewhat less likely (17 percent).
Even for those interested in specific House elections, there is not a lot of uncertainty.  By our estimates, in 408 of the 435 House elections, one party is favored to win with chances that exceed 90 percent.  The Republicans have better than a 90 percent chance of winning in 231 races and the Democrats have a better than 90 percent chance of winning in 177.  The overall lack of competitiveness is striking, if not entirely surprising.
Graph--seat estimates
As we have described with regard to our Senate forecasts, to make predictions we rely on the fundamentals and polling results, giving increasing weight to the polls as Election Day approaches.
However, in contrast to the Senate, there is not very much polling data available for the House.  The invaluable Pollster currently records polls from just 58 House contests, and of those just 27 have two or more polls.
As a result, our procedure for combining polls with the fundamentals to produce predictions is a bit different in the House.  First, to avoid putting too much weight on information that may be out-of-date, we limit our use of polls to those conducted after Labor Day.  Second when balancing the predictions based on the fundamentals and those based on the polling results, we place greater weight on the fundamentals in our House forecasts compared to our Senate forecasts.
Where there is polling data, it is common to find that the polls and the fundamentals tell a similar story.  In more than half the elections for which we have at least two polls, the vote shares predicted by the fundamentals and polling average are within 5 points.  But this is not always the case.
The House election in New York’s 11th Congressional District is a good example of how our forecast adjusts when things shift away from what the fundamentals would predict. By all accounts the Republican incumbent Michael Grimm is one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking reelection this year.  The Cook Political Report rates the election as a toss-up as does the Rothenberg Political Report, while Sabato’s Crystal Ball sees Grimm as even more vulnerable, and assesses the contest as leaning Democratic.  Over at The Fix, Grimm is listed as the #1 Most Vulnerable Member of the House.
This all makes sense.  After all Grimm is facing a 20-count federal indictment for tax and business fraud.  The two publicly available polls are consistent with the view that the election is highly competitive, with our polling average for the election sitting right at a tie.  By contrast, the fundamentals predict an easy Grimm victory with nearly 57 percent of the two-party vote.
In other words, Grimm is significantly under-performing the fundamentals, and for obvious reasons.  Our overall forecast accounts for this, currently estimating Grimm to receive about 51 percent of the vote.
For the most part, though, all’s pretty much quiet on the House front.  Attention is rightfully centered on the Senate.  Though even there, it’s possible to make the case that for the next two years, whether the Democrats or Republicans are in control matters less than one might think.