US: A Thin Democratic House

Published on October 19, 2018

With just 18 days to go before the November 6 midterm elections, Democrats still look likely to win control of the House of Representatives. Indeed, despite pre-election volatility, we believe the key question will be how thin the Democratic majority will be and whether a return of Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker will give her any greater control than that which escaped John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

*** The Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats for a House majority, which they are highly likely to win. But even if they expand on that with a 30-seat or more majority — for a total swing of 53 seats that is the outer range of probabilities — Democratic control of the House in January 2019 will in fact be a thinner majority in practical terms than its numbers would suggest. ***

*** Like the GOP majorities under Boehner and Ryan, both hobbled by Freedom Caucus dissidents, a Speaker Pelosi will be dealing with ideologically divided Democratic ranks that will force her to cobble together rolling majorities that include moderate Republicans. In other words, any semblance of governing over the next two years will require modest amounts of bipartisan cooperation. ***

*** More to the point, whether a wave-sized or narrow majority needing moderate Republican votes, we still believe Democratic fiscal priorities, their control of the budget process, and the decline of fiscal hawks in both parties, is more likely than not to translate into a second round of fiscal stimulus in fiscal 2020 (SGH 9/10/18, “US: Midterms, Trade, and a ‘Fiscal Accelerator’”). ***

Four quick points to update our midterm outlook:

** The National Republican Congressional Committee winnowed its list of competitive races down to 60-plus from 90 seats at risk previously, which accounted for the recent headlines of brighter GOP prospects. But the lower number of competitive seats is also because the NRCC has privately given up on 15 seats — meaning the Democrats only need to win eight more net seats to take the House — and it is focused on about 35 of those 60 seats still at considerable risk as they lack the resources to compete in all 60.

** The Republican base will remain energized but the base is simply too small to win the 35 out of 60 plus competitive races without the help of independents, especially with dozens of incumbent retirements in those competitive seats. It is well known that Republican candidates struggle to attract votes from the growing demographics of women and minorities; less well known is that the most excited demographic — voters under 30 years old — usually have very poor turnout percentages. Democrats only need 25% of independent votes to swing the House while Republicans need over 50% of independents to maintain control.

** The key takeaway here is that the House of Representatives will be decided in fewer than eight races of the 35 that remain within reach of Republican control across pockets of blue and purple states, most notably North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and California.

** The Senate, meanwhile, still looks to stay in Republican control, with increasing momentum for a potential pick up of one or two seats. The GOP has an advantage in demographic and geographic makeup. Most of the key Senate races are competitive in states won by President Trump in 2016, while Democrats are on the defensive in Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, and Nevada after the Kavanaugh hearings.

Back to list