A companion piece to "Top 3 Reasons Why Republicans Might Win the House." Which arguments are more persuasive? Hard to say. It's conceivable that Republicans could win the House, but the wave metaphor that so many prognosticators tend to use is not very apt. There is plenty of enthusiasm among Republican voters, but the anti-party sentiment is driving some large portion of it. It may well be, though, that the bulkheads Democrats are able to build -- accomplishments, a sense that they can govern, good candidate, pick-up opportunities -- aren't very high either. So even if the wave if small, it could do a lot of damage. But to paraphrase a top Republican anonymously: do Republicans really WANT to take over the House will all that it will imply for their prospects in 2012?
1. Demographics. In a president's first midterm, ideology usually trumps demography, as partisans and party activists are more likely to turn out than the assembled ordinary folk. However, the long sweep of demography (ideaopolises, a majority-minority country, etc) is finally catching up to Republicans. It's one reason why Democrats were able to run the table in 2006 and 2008. There are more districts with higher percentages of minorities, and Democrats have a more demographically diverse selection of seats. (According to National Journal, the percentage of districts across the country with fewer than 30 percent minority populations and fewer than 30% of people with college degrees has dropped by 50 percent since 1992). There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that minority turnout might be higher than unusual during midterm elections, and that will probably be true among Hispanics if Republicans demagogue the immigration issue. Take the Intermountain West: Democrats can hold on to several House seats if Hispanic turnout exceeds midterm averages by a few percentage points and college educated voters are moved (somehow) to turn out as well.
2. Fewer open seats and the hardening of redistricting: there will be fewer open competitive seats in 2008 than in 1994, when Democrats lost 22 of 31; as of now, there are 14 open Democratic seats (of which 9 or so are competitive) v. 18 open Republican seats, of which four are competitive.) Redistricting kicks in for the second year in a ten year cycle, and although population transience is rising, districts tend to settle in to a demographic groove by their final election. One reason why so many marginal seats flipped Democratic in 2006 and 2008 is because they were ready to, and that's one reason why it may be difficult to flip some of those seats back to Republicans. It is generally harder to accomplish midterm sweeps in the census year.
3. Intense dissatisfaction with GOP: no one likes the Republican Party -- as much as they dislike the Democratic Party. Hard to say for sure at this point, but about as many incumbent Republicans will face serious primary challenges as Democrats will, and Republicans will face the added burden of Tea Party candidates running on third ballot lines. So unthrilled are Americans with Washington in general that senators like Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Chuck Grassley of Iowa are seeing their approval ratings drop below 50%. (Grassley actually faces a competent Democratic challenger.) The Gallup generic ballot question shows Democrats with a three point lead, which is deceptive: it admits that there tends to be a four point positive bias in Democrats' direction; in order for Democrats to maintain the House, Gallup projects, they need to have about a four point lead. Point is: Republicans aren't there just yet. Another positive sign here is that the President maintains a net positive approval rating, and midterm elections tend to be influenced more by that metric than the unemployment numbers, which should be trending in the opposite direction.
Thumbnail photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.