Midweek Midterm Elections Update

We're up to our 20th 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 Congress and would only need to flip two Senate seats to retake control of 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. The first was in 1934 during FDR's first term. Followed by Bill Clinton's second term in 1998 and finally in 2002 during George W. Bush's first term. 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%                     

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 is analogous to a "home field advantage" and represents about a third of the picture when attempting to determine the likely outcome of elections. As of today, the average of accredited polling over the past week's generic ballot says, DEM: +6%.

For the second straight week, Democrats gave back a point on the generic ballot. This while President Trump's approval rating remains near the upper end of its range and our collective optimism remains as strong as it's been in years. In other words, despite the media's coverage, it appears the hysteria over immigration and related outlandish behavior by some against Trump administration officials isn't resonating generally.  

Still a six-point advantage is solid at this stage for Democrats and would doubtless lead to gains in November were this margin to hold. This is shaping up to be a bit of an odd cycle. The Senate map favored Republicans going into this cycle and despite history and the generic ballot continuing to favor Democrats, we continue to see Republicans well positioned in many hotly contested Senate races. In fact, we still see polling that suggests Republicans would be positioned to pick up seats in Florida and North Dakota. If both of those happen, it's a near certainty that Republicans would be able to retain control of the Senate. The House is a much different story.  

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 complete control. At 6%, based on current data from this cycle, Democrats would be positioned to pick up 24 seats in the US House and based on the latest data in the Senate, there would likely be no net change. As of today, Democrats would gain control of the US House and Republicans would retain control of the US Senate.  

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