2020 Election Series: Who will Control Congress? - September 30th
Bottom Line: History has a way of repeating itself so at the onset of this series we first need to account for the type of cycle this one happens to be. It’s a reelection bid for an incumbent Republican President. In these cycles the average outcome is the following in Congress:
Senate: No net change
House: Republicans +9 seats
Republicans currently control the Senate with 53 seats. Should the typical outcome occur for this type of cycle, Republicans would retain control of the Senate. Likewise, even if Republicans were to gain the average of nine seats typically gained during this type of cycle, Democrats who have a majority in the House by 38 seats, would retain control. We enter this election cycle with the status quo, split control of Congress, being the most likely outcome this year.
If there’s to be a change in congressional control Democrats will need to net four total senate seats if President Trump is reelected or three is Joe Biden is elected. A total of 35 senate seats are up for election this year. 23 are held by Republicans, meaning there’s more opportunity for Democrats to potentially flip seats than for Republicans to gain ground. Of course, in the House all seats are up for election every two years.
There were 49 races in the House decided by fewer than ten points in 2018 – or just over 11% of all races. Of those, President Trump fared better than the 2018 Republicans in 38 districts. This includes Trump outright winning 17 districts won by Democrats in 2018. These represent solid pickup opportunities for Republicans this year. With the cycle naturally benefiting Republicans and with President Trump currently polling an average of 1% behind in his final pace in swing states with four years ago (as discussed in this week’s Anatomy of a Swing State story) - Republicans are currently pacing a gain of 12 to 22 seats this year. With two special election wins thus far in 2020, Republicans now need to flip only 17 seats to gain control of the House. This week is slightly better for Republicans compared to last week. At the low of the curve they’d narrowly miss out on control of the House. The upper end of the curve this week would have Republicans narrowly gaining control of the House. If it were to hit in the middle it’d be a true tossup for control. Republicans are currently running about two points behind 2016 levels on the generic ballot question. That would suggest they’d be more likely to come in at the lower end of the curve as of today.
As for the Senate...Republicans have historically performed 2.6% better than Congressional polls in cycles with an incumbent Republican president running for re-election. If we apply that to an average of current polling in specific races, Democrats would gain three seats. Were that to occur the winner of the Presidency would determine control of the Senate. Putting the Anatomy of a Swing State analytics together with this story creates a scenario where President Trump is narrowly elected, House control is a tossup and Republicans retain control of the Senate by the narrowest of margins due to President Trump’s win. Elections up and down ballots across the country remain extremely close as of now.