Midterm elections update for April 18th - Who Would Control Congress today?

posted by Brian Mudd -

Midweek midterm elections update for April 18th - Who Would Control Congress today?     

Bottom Line: We're up to our 13th 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: +6%         

After two straight weeks of Democrats holding eight-point advantage it narrowed up to six this week. At this stage of the cycle that's a pivotal number. If it were to hold come Election Day, it's a potential pivot point. With a six-point advantage Democrats would be positioned to pick up 24 seats. In this cycle that would likely be enough to pick up one Senate seat. Talk about narrowly divided government. Were those outcomes to occur you'd have Democrats gaining control of the US House by the narrowest margin possible while Republicans would hold onto the US Senate by the narrowest margin possible. 

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. This story is a third of the overall election equation. It's the equivalent of "home field advantage" in a sporting event.  

Until next week...   

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