The race for control of the US Senate has dominated news coverage of the midterms. That’s not surprising. The polls are aplenty, the personalities are numerous, and we have a pretty good idea of the races that will determine which party wins the majority.
Yet it’s the race for the US House that may be the more interesting one. Our CNN/SSRS poll last week had Democrats up by 3 points on the generic congressional ballot – within the margin of error and close to the recent average of polls, which has shown the parties about even. For reference, Republicans were ahead on the generic ballot at this point in the last two midterms when there was a Democratic president (in 2010 and 2014).
If the current tie on the generic ballot holds in the vote for the House, control of the chamber would be a toss-up. Indeed, a number of people, including me, have noted the possibility of House Democrats maintaining their majority.
But few nonpartisan analysts think that’s likely. Most acknowledge that Republicans are in a good position to take back the House this election.
I’d make the argument, though, that we’re underselling the potential of a big Republican night. And the potential for a GOP blowout is where we begin our look at the week that was in politics.
Don’t write off the chances of a ‘red wave’
Six months ago, a massive GOP victory in the House seemed the most likely possibility. Republicans were doing better on the generic congressional ballot than at any point in history so far out from the election. Since then, a combination of events, including the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, seemed to tip the scales toward Democrats.
A look at some non-polling data and the fundamentals, however, suggests we shouldn’t lose sight of the possibility of Republicans achieving a large win next month.
Let’s start with House race ratings. These are designations that places such as The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections give to individual district races based on a bevy of factors, including how those districts have voted in the past and internal polling data.
I gathered all the final House rating data I could from Cook since 2000 – specifically, the number of races rated as either a “toss-up” or “leaning” toward one party right before the election. It turns out these ratings, in aggregate, have done an accurate job at telling the story of House elections.
When one party has more races in these two designations, it tends to do poorly. Right now, there are 23 more Democratic-held seats than Republican ones in either the toss-up or leaning category, per Cook. Additionally, there are four Democratic seats that are rated as “likely” to flip to the GOP.
Taking into account what has been a small, but fairly consistent, trend of Republicans slightly outperforming race ratings since 2000, this would translate into a GOP net gain of 26 seats next month. This would put Republicans at about 239 seats in total.
Even without considering past Republican overperformance, the current race ratings would still translate to Republicans ending up with a net gain of 17 seats, for 230 overall.
This matches up with what Amy Walter, publisher of The Cook Political Report, noted in a recent analysis: One side tends to pick up the bulk of toss-up races. And that side has been the party not in the White House, in midterms going back to 2006.
While it could be argued that Republicans getting to 230 House seats wouldn’t be a “wave” given their relatively high baseline heading into the election, 230 seats would be the same number Republicans ended up with after the historic 1994 midterm election, when they ended 50 years of uninterrupted Democratic control of the House.
Speaking of that 1994 election, President Joe Biden’s average approval rating (43%) going into this midterm is lower than Bill Clinton’s (45%) heading into the 1994 midterm. In fact, Biden’s approval is largely in line (at an average of 43%) with that of recent presidents.
Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all had average approval ratings of between 43% and 45% at this point in their first terms. Their parties all suffered net losses of between 40 and 63 seats in the House. The opposition party ended up with between 230 and 242 seats.
That’s what the race ratings suggest is the most likely range of House seats Republicans will hold after this election. (Of recent presidents, only George W. Bush had a higher average approval rating, at 62%. His party picked up House seats in 2002.)
Yes, other factors, most prominently the generic ballot, indicate that House Democrats are going to do better.
But as I pointed out last week, the generic ballot is far from a perfect predictor. If the generic ballot results hold through the election and House Republicans outperform it by as much as they did in 2020, they very likely will end up somewhere in the range of 230 to 242 House seats.
Election models by FiveThirtyEight and Jack Kersting, which are based on a bevy of variables, give Republicans about a one-third chance of ending up with at least 230 seats. That’s still better than the chance either model gives Democrats of holding on to the House.
Why Biden went to Oregon
Speaking of Democrats being in trouble, one of the last places you’d expect them to be in trouble would be Oregon. It’s a state Biden won by 16 points in 2020.
So why was the President in the state on Friday and Saturday? It’s because it’s the rare deep-blue state where Republicans have a good chance of picking up the governorship, as well as a few US House seats.
The reasons why Christine Drazan could become the first Republican elected Oregon governor in 40 years are numerous.
Most notably, Democrat-turned-independent Betsy Johnson appears to be siphoning votes from Democratic nominee Tina Kotek. While Johnson isn’t only taking from Kotek, her voters are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans.
Johnson’s presence in the race means Drazan may only need 40% of the vote to win, not anywhere close to a majority.
But Oregon’s tight gubernatorial race isn’t only about Johnson. Kotek is looking to succeed Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is term-limited. Brown is one of the least popular governors in the nation, hurt by the rise in homelessness and the cost of living.
Kotek, herself, has been painted as too liberal.
Drazan, on the other hand, has managed to escape one of the bigger charges levied against other Republicans running for blue-state governorships this year. She is firmly in the camp that believes Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.
That makes it harder to paint Drazan as too extreme.
Republicans are also looking for success down the ballot in Oregon. Election handicappers agree that the race in the 5th Congressional District is quite competitive. Biden would have won the seat by 9 points under the post-redistricting lines, but GOP chances rose significantly after Rep. Kurt Schrader was defeated by a more liberal challenger in the Democratic primary.
Analysts are more split on their views of Oregon’s 4th District and the newly created 6th District. But almost everyone agrees that the former is at least in play and the latter could easily be won by Republicans.
If Republicans, as expected, hold on to the rural 2nd District and win one of the three competitive districts, it would mark the first time they have held two House seats in Oregon in nearly 30 years. If they win two of these seats and the 2nd District, it would be the first time they’ve held at least half of Oregon’s House seats in nearly 50 years.
The bottom line: Republicans need to net just five seats nationally to win back the House majority, and more than half of those seats could be gained in Oregon.
For your brief encounters: Actually, people like their bosses
Monday (the closest weekday to October 16) is Boss’s Day. I know the stereotype is for people to hate their bosses. They even made a pretty funny movie about it.
The data shows something a bit different, however. Gallup has polled people’s views toward their bosses since 1999, and most people actually give their bosses the A-OK.
In 2021, for example, 63% of Americans said they were completely satisfied with their current boss. That was tied (with 2020) for the highest percentage since 1999. It was significantly higher than the 47% who said they were completely satisfied in 1999.
Add in the Americans who were somewhat satisfied with their boss (25%), and nearly 90% of Americans were satisfied. Just 2% of Americans, meanwhile, were completely dissatisfied with their boss.
For the record, I like my bosses. (Yes, I am that much of a suck-up.)
Solar power use rises: The percentage of Americans who say they have installed solar power panels at home is up to 8%. That has doubled from 4% in 2016 and up from 6% in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.
Covid-19 vaccination rates stabilize in nursing homes: A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of government data shows that the percentage of nursing home residents and staff who have been vaccinated or received a booster has basically stayed the same for a number of months. About 87% of residents and 88% of staff have received the primary series, while 74% of residents and 51% of staff have received at least one booster.
Layoffs in news drop: Only 11% of large newspapers experienced layoffs in 2021. Pew finds that’s down from 33% in 2020 and 24% in 2019. Among digital native outlets, 3% had layoffs in 2021. That’s down from 18% in 2020 and 11% in 2019.