It’s been recently claimed (for instance, at RealClearPolitics and The New Republic) that the Republican Party is at little risk of losing its majority in the House of Representatives. New surveys suggest that thanks to the shutdown and debt ceiling battle, the situation has changed.
Usually, the president’s party loses House seats at the midterm election, so the normal expectation would be for Republicans to gain seats. But exceptions can happen. In 1998, Democrats picked up five seats. That rather surprising result came after a rough few years, during which Speaker Newt Gingrich led the way to the last substantial shutdown, lasting 21 days.
House Republicans enjoy an exceptional advantage in the form of gerrymandered districts. In the 2012 elections, Democrats won the national popular vote by 1.5 percent, but they needed a 7.3 percent margin to take control. So broadly speaking, opinion would have to swing by about 6 percent or more for control of the House to become competitive.
It is said that public opinion has not swung as hard against Republicans as in 1995. But that statement is based on questions that ask who is more to blame, Congress or President Barack Obama. Obama is not up for re-election in 2014. A more relevant number is the generic Congressional preference, which tracks the national vote fairly well. Before the shutdown, three generic Congressional preference polls taken Sept. 23-29 (Quinnipiac, Rasmussen, Public Policy Polling) show an average of Democrats +6.0+/-1.5 percent. That’s a swing of less than 5 percent. This is the last snapshot we have before the shutdown.
More recently, a provocative set of district-level polls was conducted for MoveOn by Public Policy Polling. These are partisan organizations, but I note that of major pollsters, the Democratic-leaning PPP had the best accuracy in 2012. Also, even the worst house biases are no more than 3 percent. As we will see, even that is not enough bias to alter the conclusions here.