Who'd control Congress today? Midweek midterm elections update

posted by Brian Mudd - 

Who'd control Congress today? Midweek midterm elections update             

Bottom Line: We're up to our 29th midterm election update. And now that our primaries are behind us it’s getting down to crunch time. First, 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: +7%                            

One week does not constitute a trend and it appears that last week’s round of polling showing a sharp turn further towards Democrats was more of an aberration than a trend. Last week’s 11-point advantage for Democrats was the second highest of the year and placed a wave style election very much in play. This week’s seven-point advantage is still a tailwind for Democrats but mirrors where we were two weeks ago. That’s an environment that’s advantageous for Democrats generally but not endemic of a wave type of election.  

The Democrats don’t exactly need a wave to win the House however and as of today are pacing around 27 pickups in the for the year which would be enough to gain control of the House while there wouldn’t likely be any change in the Senate.  

Democrats have led on the generic ballot by an average of 3% to 12% 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. Individual candidates and issues in specific races can heavily influence outcomes however Democrats appear to be gaining momentum as we’re down to the final two months before the midterms.   

Until next time...    

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