86% of the 2018 Congressional Election Already Determined

A projection was made by Fair Vote Org as to what will happen in the 2018 Congressional Elections based upon a series of variables such as whether a candidate is an incumbent, the geographical location or rural versus city, the underlying partisan lean of a district etc. If we apply those variables to this election; the likelihood of a House takeover even with a Blue Wave of angry Democrats going to the poll will not yield us what we hope to achieve. It is worth considering the findings as Fair Vote Org. has accurately portrayed the Congressional results in the 2012, 2014, and 2016 elections.

Increasingly polarized and partisan voters give way to congressional districts being safe for a party holding the seat to continue to do so. In winner take all elections leaving many unrepresented, Fair Vote identifies it as the root cause of dysfunction in our electoral process and advocates going to a system of fair representative voting. While I agree with much of what is being said by Fair Vote Org., I would add to their findings, the average size of the congressional districts magnifies the dysfunction of Congressional elections by disenfranchising large elements of the population within those districts. Congressional Representatives have the luxury of ignoring a sizeable minority (in numbers) constituency.

The congressional districts in place today reflect Republican majorities in the U.S. House. Using the parameters identified, 208 Republican districts are counted as being safe for Republicans. To maintain control of the House, Republicans would only need to win ten of the remaining 61 seats in the upcoming 2018 election. Districts labeled safe for either party are those the Fair Vote Org. is highly confident of the outcome and it remaining in that party’s control.

In a year where the national party preference by constituents is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the 2018 election would still leave Republican candidates winning 244 districts (56%) or 53 more than Democrats. Incumbency is an advantage and hard to overturn.

The bias towards Republicans holds true in the Democratic wave year of 2018. Even in the case of a Blue Democratic wave year of as 54% or more of the national party preference by constituents, Republicans would still walk away with 226 districts compared to 209 for Democrats (Figure 1.4). A reverse scenario of a 54% wave year for Republicans, GOP candidates would result in a projected 254 districts (58%), with a Democratic advantage in the remaining 181 districts. Seemingly, the deck is stacked against the Democrats taking control of the House in 2018.

Unless more than 55.4% of voters go to the polls and prefer Democrats over Republicans, the House will still be controlled by Republicans. Maybe the 55.4% turnout will take place; but, I believe it to be unlikely given the numbers I am seeing. While Democrats will gain ground, Republicans will keep their majority even with as little as 45% turnout in a Republican party preference in this election.

Immutable determinations of Congressional Election Outcomes. What I attempt to show here is; unless changes in how we select our Congressional Representatives to office in winner take all elections and in the districts themselves, the population size of the districts, the representation of minority interests, etc., little will change in the House and how they represent their constituents. Michigan’s Mike Bishop is a perfect example of a Congressional Representative ignoring constituents and only because he does not need them to elect him. Lending credence to this report were the prediction results of the Fair Vote Organization on what had occurred in the 2012, 2014, and the 2016 elections. For example, the 2016 U.S. House elections were so uncompetitive, Fair Vote was able to accurately predict winners in 97% of seats more than a year before Election Day using only data from the three previous congressional elections.

Mostly due to the reasons cited earlier (incumbency, winner-take-all, size of district, etc.) the outcome of more than 80% of U.S. House races can be predicted with near certainty years ahead of the election. In 2012 and 2014 House elections, the model made “high-confidence” projections in 701 contests (80.5% of all races) and was correct in all but one. The remaining ~20% of the races were either in a favored status or a tossup.

Advantages built into the structure of House elections strengthen a continued Republican majority likely. For 2018, Fair Vote’s model makes high-confidence projections of the winners in 374 of 435 U.S. House races. Of these 374 projections, 208 races are safe for Republicans and 166 are safe for Democrats. Of the 61 seats our high-confidence model did not project, 22 favor Republicans and another 21 are toss-up seats. Republicans need only win 10 of these to maintain their majority.

Although 2018 might be a bad year for incumbents, the rates of incumbent re-election will remain high. Donald Trump’s unexpected election to the presidency did not nothing to change the House status quo. 98% of congressional incumbents won re-election in the 2016 general election. Mid-terms when one party controls all levels of government are extremely volatile; but, we can expect an incumbent re-election rate on the order of 90% or more.

Of the ten most vulnerable incumbents, five are Democrats and five are Republicans. 2016 upended many longstanding partisan and demographic trends, leaving many incumbents from both parties stranded in what is now enemy territory. Both of the incumbents with the highest projected margins of defeat, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL) and Tim Waltz (D-MN) have already announced they are not seeking re-election.

Outcomes in most races are essentially predetermined and can be forecasted just months – or even days – after the previous election.

“Monopoly Politics; The Root of Dysfunction in the House of Representatives;” Fair Vote staff, led by Andrew Douglas, Theodore Landsman, and Rob Richie. Special thanks to Madeline Brown, Sarah John, Johnathan Nowakowski, and Drew Penrose of Fair Vote Org