Midterm elections update for April 11th - Who'd Control Congress today

posted by Brian Mudd -

Midweek midterm elections update for April 11th - Who Would Control Congress today?    

Bottom Line: We're up to our 12th midterm election update. 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%        

No changes this week...which is a first so far this year. The hyper-active news cycle has resulted in significant swings. Democrats have led in every update in 2018 with a range of 4% to 12%. It appears that for now we're settling into the middle of that range. This is instructive as we're looking at how the landscape generally favors Democrats gaining control of Congress this cycle. With a 4-point advantage on the generic ballot, Republicans would likely loose seats but narrowly hang onto Congressional control. By 6% Democrats would likely regain at least partial control of Congress and by 7%-8% complete control. In other words, Republicans need to perform as well as they have this cycle to avoid losing control this fall. Anything less would likely mean Democrats taking the reins 

Based on an eight-point advantage on the generic ballot the picture at this stage of the cycle looks like this...   

  •  26 seats in the House and 3 Senate seats   

Were this to hold until Election Day Democrats would likely regain control. Once we get past the primaries and can track specific races, we're likely to see a myriad of tight races this year - much more so than in typical midterm cycles.    

Until next week...  

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