Elections: 2018 House Forecast
BSSB.BE fivethirtyeight.com 1/11/2018
* Four hundred and seventy seats in the U.S. Congress (35 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 6, 2018.
Welcome to our Election Update for Wednesday, Oct. 31! Some scary news for Republicans: Their chances to hold the U.S. House of Representatives are down to 1 in 7 (14 percent), according to the Classic version of our House forecast as of 9 a.m. Eastern time.
- The Deluxe version is slightly more favorable to them, at 17 percent. But even according to the GOP’s best-case scenario, the Lite (aka polls-mostly) version, the party is a 2 in 9 (22 percent) underdog.
- Over the weekend, Siena College dropped a poll of the New York 24th District that gives Republican Rep. John Katko a 14-point lead over Democrat Dana Balter. The finding was pretty similar to what Siena found the last time it polled the race, in August. Why is the result so noteworthy, then?
- It’s a phenomenal performance by a Republican in a district that voted for both Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012. In fact, the New York 24th is 5 points more Democratic-leaning than the country as a whole.1
With the generic ballot tilting nearly 9 points in Democrats’ favor, Katko is the rare Republican candidate who’s expected to actually outperform the partisanship of his or her district. Our forecast2 anticipates it could happen in just 35 out of 435 districts in the House.
And not only is Katko primed to outperform his district’s partisan lean, but he’s also one of the even fewer Republicans outperforming it in a district with a Democratic partisan lean (many of the other 34 were strong Republicans outperforming in already pretty red districts; only three were Republicans outperforming in blue ones4). Here’s our list of the top five highest-overperforming Republicans:
The strongest Republican incumbents
The top five Republican congressional candidates’ forecasted vote share margin compared to the district’s partisan lean as of Oct. 31
The California 21st District remains Democrats’ white whale. Even though Clinton won this Central Valley district by 16 points, Valadao posted a 50-39 lead in a September poll by SurveyUSA. The three-term incumbent has won the district with double-digit margins since it was created in 2012 through redistricting and has focused on local rather than national issues in this blue district. As for Katko, he won his 2016 campaign by 21 points and looks on track to do almost as well this year. In the Florida 26th, Rep.
Carlos Curbelo is downright liberal on environmental issues in a D+10 district that includes the Everglades and Florida Keys. It also doesn’t hurt that Curbelo is Cuban-American in a 37 percent Cuban-American district; this voting bloc still leans Republican down the ballot even as it has moved toward Democrats in presidential elections.
The Louisiana 4th’s Mike Johnson, who is facing an underfunded Democratic opponent, and Michigan 3rd’s Justin Amash, who may have cross-party appeal due to his mavericky, libertarianvoting record, round out the list.
On the other side of the coin, there are more than 350 Democrats poised to outperform their district’s partisan leans (a little over 200 were performing strongly in districts that lean Republican, the other 150 or so in districts that were already blue). With the political winds at their backs, the strongest Democratic candidates look stronger than even the strongest Republican candidates.
The strongest Democratic incumbents and candidates
The top five Democratic congressional candidates’ forecasted vote share margin compared to the district’s partisan lean as of Oct. 31
Politically, the Minnesota 7th District is more like neighboring North Dakota, which has a similar partisan lean of R+34. But the lone poll we have, a Democratic internal from September, gives Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson an 18-point advantage, and the Classic version of our forecast rates the seat as Likely Democratic. (When Peterson eventually retires, Democrats are probably going to have an even tougher time keeping this seat than what they’ve faced currently in the open 1st and 8th districts next door.) The California 32nd is a bit of an outlier on this list, as the model may be giving Rep.
- Grace Napolitano too much credit for having run unopposed in June’s top-two primary (Republican Joshua Scott qualified for the November ballot as a write-in in the primary).
- And in the Connecticut 2nd and Illinois 17th, two seasoned Democrats face no serious threat despite occupying rural-suburban seats that swung hard toward Trump in 2016.
- What’s more, in these two races and the California 32nd, all three Republicans have raised $0 in individual contributions; in other words, Napolitano’s, Courtney’s and Bustos’s relative strength may be more a function of their opponents’ weakness.
It’s rare for a non-incumbent to overperform his or her district’s partisan lean by much, but Democratic state Sen. Richard Ojeda, while an underdog, nevertheless cracks the list at number five. The West Virginia 3rd was one of Trump’s best congressional districts in the entire country, but this coal-producing region has a much longer track record of supporting conservative Democrats like Ojeda.
If he manages to pull off the victory, he’ll not only be one of the strongest candidates of 2018, but of the last two decades: No candidate has won a district so deeply entrenched in enemy territory since at least 1998.
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