Who'd control Congress today? Midterm elections update

posted by Brian Mudd - 

Who'd control Congress today? Midweek midterm elections update for August 8th          

Bottom Line: We're up to our 25th 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%                          

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 generic ballot says (average of accredited polling over the past week) ...        

  • Current: DEM: +5%                        

Democrats dropped a point on the generic ballot for the third consecutive week and at 5% it’s the smallest lead Democrats have had in over two months. This as we’re starting to see voters more seriously engage the political cycle as we’re within three months of the general election.  

In what's shaping up to be a tight election cycle relative to congressional control, small moves matter. 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 5%, based on current data from this cycle, Democrats would be positioned to pick up 24 seats in the House and based on the latest data in the Senate, there would be no net change. Under that scenario Democrats would gain control of the house by the slimiest possible margin and Republicans would retain control of the senate – in case you're wondering just how tight this cycle is shaping up to be...   

Until next time...

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