For the first time in the 2018 political season, one of the nation’s leading political forecasters is predicting Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives following the midterm elections.
On Tuesday, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, led by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, moved 17 House races more favorable to Democrats. The report also shows 33 of 36 seats labeled as toss-ups are currently held by Republicans. Seven other GOP-held seats are considered even more imperiled.
In contrast, only two seats held by Democrats are considered toss-ups, as is one member vs. member race in Pennsylvania. One seat held by Democrats is likely to flip to the GOP. Democrats need a net gain of 23 House seats to reclaim the majority.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball Managing Editor Kyle Kondik says the enthusiasm in midterm election years is almost always against the party of the president. And with President Trump serving as a lightning rod for the left, the passion among Democrats is even higher.
“The Republicans had this advantage in 2010 and 2014 and now the Democrats generally do in terms of asking people how enthusiastic they are to vote,” said Kondik. “For voters, anger can be a great motivator and the angrier party, I think right now, is the Democrats.”
Even though Trump is not on the ballot, Democrats are looking for any chance to express their disapproval. Kondik says last year’s Virginia governor’s race proved Democrats cared much more about hurting Trump than supporting Democrats on the ballot.
“Reporters were asking voters about Ralph Northam, the eventual Democratic winner and of course now the governor. They didn’t seem to know a whole lot about him, but they did seem to know they were casting a vote against President Trump. I think that’s what you might see in November,” said Kondik.
Republicans are also running against history. Kondik says American history shows midterm elections are almost always good for the party out of power.
“Going back to the Civil War, there have been 39 midterms. The president’s party has lost ground in the House in 36 of those, and the average seat loss is 33 seats. The Democrats need to net 23 seats. So it would not be historically odd for Democrats to win the House,” said Kondik.
But despite those built-in advantages for Democrats, Kondik says no one should count the Republicans out.
“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk for the Democrats by any means. It’s also quite possible the race for the House could come down to a few seats here or there,” said Kondik, indicating Democrats could make major gains but still wind up in the minority.
Kondik expects Republicans to try matching the intensity of Democrats by firing up their own base. Part of that may be based on issues such as immigration, on which some Democrats have advocated abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
However, just as Democrats plan to demonize Trump, he suspects Republicans will rally their voters over fears of who would be running the House of Representatives if Democrats take control.
“They’re also raising the specter of Nancy Pelosi being the House speaker again. Many Democratic candidates have actually disavowed Pelosi, but Republicans still see her as a very useful foil,” said Kondik.
Gauging 435 House races is a bit tricky since polling can be scarce in many contests. Many seats are considered safe for one party, and the battle lines are drawn over a few dozen swing districts.
“The national party committees are doing polling here and there but even they don’t have perfect knowledge about these districts. A lot of [predicting races] is based on the history of the district, our sort of subjective view of the quality of the candidates, past performance, and demographics. You just try to do the best you can,” said Kondik.
“As we’ve seen in the past, even polls on the statewide level are not always correct and so there’s a significant amount of projection and guesswork that goes into it,” he added.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball will revise its projections on House, Senate and governor’s races before locking in predictions just before Election Day, Nov. 6.
The organization’s “Final 2016 Picks” had Hillary Clinton taking 322 Electoral College Votes to Donald Trump’s 216 in the presidential race.
The actual result was almost the opposite.