Midterm elections update for May 23rd – Who'd Control Congress today

posted by Brian Mudd - 

Midweek midterm elections update for May 23rd  Who'd Control Congress today          

Bottom Line: We're up to our 18th 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. This perspective is highly predictive of which party is best positioned for the cycle. As of today, the generic ballot says (average of accredited polling over the past week)...      

  • Current: DEM: +3%              

This week is full of storylines. After dropping another point on the generic ballot question this week Democrats have their smallest advantage this cycle. While President Trump isn't on the ballot this fall, the changes in the generic ballot question somewhat generally mirror the President Trump's improvement in approval and our improved optimism on the direction of the country over the past month.  

Democrats still have the advantage and would still gain seats this fall but as of now the narrative has shifted from a potential wave election outcome to one in which they likely wouldn't regain control of Congress. This as more states have primaries and we creep closer to the midterms themselves. The Democrats have led on the generic ballot by an average of 3% to 12% thus far in 2018. Anything in the 8%+ range would likely produce a "wave" type of election. Anything in the 4% or under range would likely result in Republicans retaining control. 

Were this margin to hold by Election Day, Democrats would be positioned to pick up 12 seats in the US House and no net changes in the Senate in a typical election cycle. 

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. Right now, Democrats have a "home field advantage" and are positioned to win seats but as of this week, not enough to overcome their current deficit in Congress.   

Until next week...     

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