FairVote Releases Projections for the 2014 Congressional Elections Incumbents Dominate, Partisan Bias, Limited Voter Choice

Released April 26, 2013

For Immediate Release                      For Information, Contact:
April 26, 2013                                      Devin McCarthy (301) 270-4616, dmccarthy [at] fairvote [dot] org

 

FairVote Releases Projections for the 2014 Congressional Elections:
Incumbents Dominate, Partisan Bias, Limited Voter Choice

As part of its biennial Monopoly Politics series on the overriding dominance of partisanship in controlling the outcomes of American congressional elections, FairVote today released its initial projections for next year's U.S. House elections in its Monopoly Politics 2014 report. The report projects outcomes in 374 of 435 U.S. House elections in 2014 based on current incumbents seeking re-election. Of those 374 races, FairVote projects 211 to be won by Republicans and 163 to be won by Democrats.

Monopoly Politics 2014 also gives users a tool to simulate the outcome of the 2014 election given different levels of nationwide support for the two major parties, as well as different levels of support for congressional incumbents overall.

FairVote's projections are based solely on incumbency and recent presidential and congressional election results from each district. FairVote has concluded that campaign spending (either by candidates or outside sources) and the representatives' voting records are minor factors compared to district partisanship and candidates' own past performance relative to that district partisanship.

Using this approach in July 2012, FairVote projected 333 out of 435 House races in the 2012 election. Every single projection proved to be correct. The accuracy of these projections sheds light on the fact that the outcomes of most congressional races are effectively predetermined long before the election takes place, due to the use of winner-take-all voting rules in districts where one party has a consistent and fundamental advantage among voters.

For the 2014 election, FairVote projects winners in more races than in 2012 and is releasing those projections over a year further in advance of the election. Daily Kos recently finalized its 2012 presidential vote totals by congressional district data, enabling FairVote to create updated partisanship ratings for each congressional district. We determine a district's partisanship by how that district voted for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election relative to the candidates' nationwide vote percentages - a method that we pioneered in July 1997 and was later adapted by Charlie Cook to create his Partisan Voting Index.

Using those partisanship ratings and incumbents' margins of victory in 2012 and 2010, FairVote projects winners in 374 of 435 races for the upcoming midterm election. FairVote sees clear advantages for one party in many additional races, but does not project all districts because there is a small degree to which candidate-specific factors will influence outcomes in the few remaining competitive districts.

Underscoring the remarkable degree of partisan bias existent in our congressional election system, FairVote projects 48 more Republican winners than Democratic winners. This bias toward Republicans will likely hold true even in a relatively tilted year like the Democrats' wave year in 2008 or the Republican wave in 2010, in which the national party preference was about 54% to 46% for one party. Democrats would need to win nearly every single race for which FairVote is not making a projection in order to retake the House, which we project would require a nationwide preference for Democrats of about 56% to 44%. If Democrats have a majority preference less than that margin in 2014, it likely would mean a second consecutive election in which one party receives more total House election votes but the other party wins more House seats.

The winner-take-all American congressional map will also be biased heavily toward incumbents, very few of whom have any real chance of losing a general election. FairVote projects that a majority of incumbents (262) will enjoy "safe" races - that is, races in which they are expected to win by at least 16 percentage points, a cushion far outside what it would take to put them at risk even in a year in which their party does very poorly overall. As a result, most Americans will not have a realistic chance to elect a congressional representative of a different party in 2014. In fact, only 21 races (less than 5%) are projected to be true toss-ups - that is, races in which the incumbent is expected to receive between 47% and 53% of the two-party vote.

A table totaling all congressional races by likely winning party and competitiveness in an even partisan year is below (note again that FairVote is not making definitive projections for all these races):

Competitiveness Projections: "Typical" Year with Voters Divided 50-50

Safely Republican:

201

Safely Democratic:

151

Likely Republican:

18

Likely Democratic:

15

Lean Republican:

13

Lean Democratic:

16

Toss Up (Slight R):

5

Toss Up (Slight D):

16

Total R:

237

Total D:

198


The chart below shows the number of seats that the two major parties are likely to win if the 2014 election favors Democrats by 54% to 46% (like 2008), if it is an even partisan year, and if it is a year that favors Republicans by 54%to 46% (like 2010). Note the difference in effect between a 4% shift toward each of the two parties.  

National Partisan Tilt

Seats Projected to Favor Republicans

Seats Projected to Favor Democrats

54% - 46% Democratic

(Democratic Year)

230   (127 safe)

205   (174 safe)

50% - 50% Balance

 (No Partisan Edge)

237   (201 safe)

198   (151 safe)

54% - 46% Republican

(Republican Year)

261   (230 safe)

174   (123 safe)

 

For more information on each individual congressional district and FairVote's methodology in producing these projections, see its Monopoly Politics 2014 spreadsheet - embedded online and also available for download. The spreadsheet allows users to manually change the overall partisan lean of the 2014 election, as shown in the chart above. It also gives users the capability to change the average advantage that incumbents will receive over challengers (the "incumbency bump," as explained in this December 2012 post), reflecting the overall attitude of voters toward incumbents.

Look in the weeks ahead for the full Monopoly Politics 2014 report, which will feature in-depth nationwide and state-by-state analysis of the coming congressional elections. For FairVote's past analyses of the problems of partisan bias and uncompetitive elections and its fair voting solution to those problems, see the Monopoly Politics 2012 and Fair Voting 2012 reports.

FairVote is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization. For more information on Monopoly Politics 2014, please contact Devin McCarthy at (301) 270-4616, or by email at dmccarthy [at] fairvote [dot] org.

 

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