Midweek midterm elections update for February 21st -

posted by Brian Mudd -

Midweek midterm elections update for February 21st - Who Would Control Congress today?    

Bottom Line: We're up to our 6th midterm election update & there are big changes again this week. Here's what history tells us about midterm elections:    

Since the advent of the current two-party system (39 midterm elections) we've averaged the President's party losing 4 Senate seats and 30 seats in the House. If that happens this year Democrats would retake control of both chambers of Congress. Democrats only need to flip two Senate seats to retake control and they need 24 seats in the House. History is on the side of the Democrats reclaiming control going into this cycle.     

There are only three times that the incumbent President's party has gained seats (1934 during FDR's first term, 1998 during Bill Clinton's second term and 2002 during George W. Bush's first term) thus only 3 out of 39 midterm elections have resulted in the President's party gaining seats. Here's another way of looking at it... History suggests there's a 92% chance Democrats will gain Congressional seats this year. The question becomes how many. That's where it's helpful to look at the history of generic ballot polls and outcomes. These are the past four cycles:    

The first number is the average generic ballot polling on Election Day and the second is the actual result:  

  • 2014: GOP +2.4 - GOP +5.7 = GOP+3.3%    

  • 2010: GOP +9.4 - GOP +6.8 = GOP -2.6%    

  • 2006: DEM +11.5 - DEM +7.9 = DEM -3.6%    

  • 2002: GOP +1.7 - GOP +4.6 = GOP +2.9%    

The first takeaway is that the polls average being off by about 3%. There's no rhyme or reason politically (polls were overly representative of both parties twice). So next let's try to see what cycle this one most resembles. As of today, the generic ballot says...    

  • Current: DEM: +6.5%  

We're continuing to see a lot of volatility in the generic ballot question. Democrats are still showing a nice overall advantage - however this week 1.5% fewer voters said they'd prefer a Democrat, all else being equal. Democrats have lost support on the generic ballot in four of the past five weeks. The difference is that rather than a wave election, as it appeared Democrats were on track for to start 2018, we're looking at gains but potentially not enough to win control of Congress. 

Last week Democrats were on pace to add 15 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate. This week Democrats are positioned to gain 11 seats in the House and 3 seats in the Senate.   

The major caveat is that the Senate map is highly unfavorable for Democrats this year. We'll need to wait until we're past the primaries and can track individual races to have a clearer picture of what the playing field looks like... Under that scenario Republicans would retain slight control of the House and Democrats would gain control of the Senate.  

Until next week... 

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