Midweek midterm elections update - Who'd Control Congress today?

posted by Brian Mudd - 

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

Bottom Line: We're up to our 9th 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% - however history has shown that the party with a generic ballot advantage has always performed the best in the midterm elections - so this perspective is highly predictive of which party is best positioned for the cycle. So next let's try to see what cycle this one most resembles. As of today, the generic ballot says...       

  • Current: DEM: +8%     

Two weeks ago, at the previous update, Republicans had the smallest deficit they'd had in this cycle - with Democrats posting a 4-point advantage. Two weeks later that lead has doubled and the implications if the elections were held today are pretty significant. The difference between a 4 and an 8-point advantage would potentially mean the difference between Democrats gaining 26 seats in the House, compared to 11 and gaining 3 seats in the Senate compared to just 1. The difference is Democrats obtaining complete control of Congress compared to Republicans holding narrow control of both bodies.  

Until next week...   

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