Nine House Races to Watch (and Five You Don't Have To) on Election Night

// Published November 3, 2012

 

In Brief:

  • FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2012 report, published in July 2012, projected the outcomes of over 75% of congressional races using no post-2010 variables other than the partisanship of the district and whether it is an open seat. Today, congressional election analysts see only 5% of our 333 projected winners as even potentially vulnerable. Of our 266 projected "safe" winners, 262 are seen as coasting to wins.
  • Our analysis suggests that some prominent election forecasters may be missing the partisanship forest for the campaign trail trees in several races - and are perhaps making their greatest errors in the key states of New York and Illinois.
  • Of the 37 candidates who are running unopposed by a major party, Monopoly Politics 2012 made projections for victories by 36 in July. Of the three districts that FairVote projected would switch parties, two are now considered by mainstream analysts to be safe for the outcome we predicted--not even potentially competitive for the majority party. The third district is a 69% Republican district in Oklahoma.

 

As Election Day approaches, analysts of the US congressional map are finalizing their projections for competitive U.S. House races. There is a broad consensus that only about 75-85 congressional races have a chance to be competitive. 

FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2012 report, viewable in a user-friendly interactive map, was released in July. It projected the outcomes of 333 out of 435 House races based solely on the partisanship of the district, whether an incumbent was running, and the most recent House election in that district. We did not factor in candidate quality, fundraising, or anybody else's predictions.

Of those 333 races, only 17 are currently listed as possibly competitive by RealClearPolitics - with only four of the 266 races we had projected as safe considered competitive. Just three of those 17 races are listed as a tossup or likely seat change - and our partisanship landscape analysis makes us confident that almost all of these races will in fact ultimately go as we projected. At the same time, roughly two-thirds of the 102 races in which we made no projections are listed as competitive by RealClearPolitics.

The success of the Monopoly Politics 2012 projections confirms FairVote's belief that the partisanship of a district is the single most dominant factor in determining the outcome of congressional elections.

 

Looking at Potentially Competitive Races through a Partisanship Lens

We projected conservatively in July, but now that the election is just days away and nationwide polling strongly suggests that this will be roughly a 50-50 election in terms of partisanship, FairVote's partisanship data can be used to provide insights into some of the more hotly contested House races.

We urge people to read our report and also spend time looking at our fair voting alternative plans for every state. But our data is also valuable for those interested in the 2012 horserace for control of the House. Our partisanship-based analysis tells a different story than that of other prominent election predictors--RealClearPolitics, the Cook Political Report, and the New York Times.

These analysts, whom we select as representative of conventional political wisdom about the upcoming election, take into account many factors in their projections other than district partisanship, including candidate quality, money, and polling data. While these factors might prove to be decisive in any given race--and we appreciate the valuable insight that these analysts bring into races based on the specifics of a campaign--a district's partisanship will override those factors in the vast majority of congressional elections.

The 2010 elections are a good example of the power of partisanship. The Republicans had a remarkably good year. But 40 of the 52 seats in which they beat a Democratic incumbent were districts in which Barack Obama underperformed his national average in 2008, and they failed to defeat a single one of the 139 Democratic incumbents from a district with a partisanship greater than 55%

Turning to 2012, the following races are ones in which a partisanship-based projection diverges from the conventional wisdom, and are therefore worth watching-or not watching-on Tuesday and in the next several Congressional cycles.

Note: the projections listed here are consistent with, but not identical to the July 2012 projections in the Monopoly Politics 2012 report. These projections are made with some uncertainty, as most of them concern races in which we did not make a prediction in July. However, the new projections remain primarily based on district partisan landscape. All projections are listed in terms of "Safe R/D," "Likely R/D," "Lean R/D," and "Tossup." Note that the New York Times only uses the "Safe (called solid by NYT)," "Lean," and "Tossup" categories. All projections are as of November 2.

Nine Races Informed by Our Monopoly Politics 2012 Analysis

Arizona 1:

RealClearPolitics: Tossup
Cook Political Report: Tossup
New York Times: Tossup

FairVote Projection: Lean R

Analysis: Arizona 1 is an open seat with a 55% Republican partisanship. Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick has had a consistent but slight lead over Jonathan Paton in the polls, but a 10% partisanship deficit will be difficult for her to overcome.

Arizona 2:

RealClearPolitics: Lean D
Cook Political Report: Lean D
New York Times: Tossup

FairVote Projection: Tossup

Analysis: Ron Barber won a special election with somewhat different district lines earlier this year, taking over from his former boss Gabby Giffords.  But turnout was far lower than it will be next month and the district is 54% Republican. The Times' caution on this race is warranted.

California 21:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Likely R
Cook Political Report Projection: Likely R
New York Times Projection: Lean R

FairVote Projection: Tossup

Analysis: Republican David Valadao beat Democrat John Hernandez by a large margin in the top two primary, and Valadao currently holds a large financial advantage.  But the district has a 50-50 partisanship, the June primary turnout leaned Republican, and the Democratic vote was split in the primary. We don't see those results as necessarily indicative of what will happen in the higher-turnout general election.

California 26:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Tossup
Cook Political Report Projection: Tossup
New York Times Projection: Lean D

FairVote Projection: Likely D

Analysis: California 26 is an open district with a Democratic advantage of 54-46. Even after the strong Republican year in 2010, Republicans currently hold only one district that is at least 54% Democratic. In an open seat election in a 50-50 year, this seat is therefore likely to be won by Democrat Julia Brownly.

Georgia 12:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Tossup
Cook Political Report Projection:  Tossup
New York Times Projection: Tossup

FairVote Projection: Lean R

Analysis: Democratic incumbent John Barrow has survived other close elections, but his 2010 district was fully 10% more Democratic that his current 59% Republican district. If he indeed loses, Georgia will not have a single white Democratic U.S. House Member-joining the nearby Southern states of South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, which are also are unlikely to have a white Democratic House Member in 2013.

Massachusetts 6:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Lean R
Cook Political Report Projection: Lean R
New York Times Projection: Tossup

FairVote Projection: Edge D

Analysis: This race is about as good a chance as Republicans have had for picking up a seat in the all-Democratic Massachusetts U.S. House delegation since 1994. Ordinarily the no one would expect a change here, given Tierney's long-time incumbency and his district's 54% Democratic partisanship. Even though he's faced with a scandal involving illegal gambling and his Republican opponent is socially liberal, Tierney may surprise those projecting his defeat simply because of his district's partisanship.

Michigan 7:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Safe R
Cook Political Report Projection: Safe R
New York Times Projection: Lean R

FairVote Projection: Lean R

Analysis: RealClearPolitics and Cook have are not even discussing Michigan's 7th district as potentially competitive. The district is only 52% Republican, though, and freshman incumbent Tim Wahlberg only won by 5% in the Republican wave of 2010. He should still be considered a favorite, but this race would seem to be one worth paying closer attention to.

North Carolina 7:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Tossup
Cook Political Report Projection: Tossup
New York Times Projection: Lean D

FairVote Projection: Lean R

Analysis: Mike McIntyre has a history of winning in Republican-leaning districts. He won in 2010, for instance, despite a rough year for his party and a 56% Republican district. After redistricting, however, NC-7 is now 62% Republican-an almost insurmountable partisanship gap.  The only Democrat in the nation representing a district that is so heavily Republican is Utah's Jim Matheson, who also may lose this year.  McIntyre obviously could still win, but the partisanship landscape is against him.

Washington 8:

Not listed as competitive by any of the three sources.

FairVote Projection: Lean R

Analysis: None of the analysts consider this race competitive, but the district's partisanship is roughly even-51% Republican. The incumbent, Dave Reichert, benefitted greatly from redistricting, as in 2010 WA-8 was only 46% Republican. Given his ability to win a Democratic-leaning district before, Reichert certainly isn't an underdog. But a candidate who has never won more than 53% of the vote running in a district with such an even partisanship can't take his race for granted this year.

 

Special Focus on New York and Illinois: Have the Oddsmakers Missed the Big Story?

In Illinois and New York, FairVote's partisanship-based projections consistently predict different outcomes than those of other analysts.

Illinois: Republicans at risk in Districts 8, 10, 11, 12, 13

RealClearPolitics Projection:
District 8-likely D, District 10-tossup, District 11-Lean D, District 12-tossup, District 13-tossup

Cook Political Projection:
District 8-likely D, District 10-tossup, District 11-Lean D, District 12-tossup, District 13-tossup

New York Times:
District 8-Lean D, District 10-Lean D, District 11-Lean D, District 12-tossup, District 13-Lean R

FairVote Projection:
District 8-Safe D, District 10-Likely D, District 11-Likely D, District 12-Lean D, District 13-Lean D

Analysis: Districts 8, 10, and 11 all have vulnerable Republican incumbents whose positions were worsened by the Democrat-drawn redistricting plan. Joe Walsh in district 8 won by only 0.1% in the Republican wave year of 2010, and his district is now 6% more Democratic. Robert Dold in IL-10 is the only Republican currently serving in a district with a Democratic partisanship over 54%, but his district got even bluer in redistricting-now 60% Democratic-and he won by only a slim margin in the Republican wave year of 2010. Judy Biggert in IL-11 had a more sizeable margin of victory in 2010, but saw her district shift from 51% Democratic to 57% Democratic in redistricting. Both Dold's and Biggert's districts have to be seen as favoring the Democrats solely on the basis of partisanship.

Districts 12 and 13 are open seats, and have less of a Democratic lean-both are 52% D. In a 50-50 year, however, even a 4% partisanship gap is significant. These districts should be seen as leaning Democratic.

The bottom line is that our landscape analysis would suggest that the Democrats are likely to win at least four of these seats - yet RealClearPolitics and Cook give Democrats a clear edge in only two and the New York Times in three.

New York: Partisanship a factor in Districts 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 27

RealClearPolitics Projection:
District 18-Lean R, District 19-Lean R, District 22-Safe R, District 23-Safe R, District 25-Lean D, District 27-tossup

Cook Political Report:
District 18-Tossup, District 19-Tossup, District 22-Safe R, District 23-Safe R, District 25-Likely D, District 27-Lean R

New York Times:
District 18-Lean R, District 19-Lean R, District 22-Lean R, District 23-Lean R, District 25-Lean D, District 27-Tossup

FairVote Projection: District 18-Tossup, District 19-Tossup, District 22-Likely R, District 23-Likely R, District 25-Safe D, District 27-Lean R

A court-drawn map resulted in an unusual number of more political balanced (no greater than 54% partisanship for either party) districts in New York. We consider 10 out of 27 NY districts to be balanced, more than the eight balanced districts in the 152 districts in 14 southern states. The map has given Republicans new opportunities in this Democratic-leaning state but more peril as well, due to the likelihood of more closely contested races than conventional wisdom anticipates.

The Cook Report aligns more closely with FairVote's projections than does RealClearPolitics, which is being especially generous to Republicans in NY-18 and NY-19. These two districts are essentially even in partisanship, and both Republican incumbents are freshmen from the 2010 wave. Those incumbents likely do not have a substantial advantage

Two races that are not considered contested by either RCP or Cook are NY-22 and 23. Both are likely to remain Republican, with partisanships of 54% and 53% R, but both incumbents are also 2010 Republican freshmen. Those levels of Republican partisanship have been overcome by Democrats recently with some frequency, so 22 and 23 could be districts to watch if there is a slight nationwide Democratic tilt in this election.

The only two New York districts that FairVote projects as being less competitive than RCP and Cook are NY-25-which FairVote projected as a safe seat for Louise Slaughter in July-and NY-27, in which Republicans have the edge to unseat Democrat Kathy Hochul because of the district's 58% Republican partisanship.

 

The Final Five Races You Probably Don't Have to Watch

California 24:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Tossup
Cook Political Report: Lean D
New York Times: Lean D

FairVote Projection: Likely D

Analysis: Lois Capps' district was redrawn to her considerable disadvantage, as its 63% Democratic partisanship lean declined to a more modest 54%. Still, she won her last election by 20%, and even an 8 point partisanship deficit is very difficult for anyone-especially a Republican-to overcome. To reiterate--there are only four Republicans in the nation currently representing districts that are at least 54% Democratic.

California 41:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Lean D
Cook Political Report: Lean D
New York Times: Tossup

FairVote Projection: Likely D

This is an open seat that is 57% Democratic. It's not impossible for a Republican to win the seat, but it's worth noting that there are only four Republicans currently representing a district with at least 54% Democratic partisanship.

Ohio 6:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Tossup
Cook Political Report Projection: Tossup
New York Times Projection: Tossup

FairVote Projection: Likely R

Analysis: Republican incumbent Bill Johnson, a product of the 2010 Republican wave, was helped by an increase in Republican partisanship of 3% in his district, to its current 58% level. Though Democrats have invested a significant amount of money into beating Johnson, it would be surprising if that were enough to overcome the partisan landscape of OH-6.

Rhode Island 1:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Lean D
Cook Political Report Projection: Tossup
New York Times Projection: Lean D

FairVote Projection: Likely D

Analysis: Incumbent David Cicilline is a candidate weakened by controversy, but his district is overwhelmingly Democratic - 64% Democratic.  Despite his troubles, it's hard to imagine him his losing re-election in a high-turnout presidential election year.

TX 14:

RealClearPolitics Projection: Lean R
Cook Political Report Projection: Lean R
New York Times Projection: Safe R

FairVote Projection: Safe R

Analysis: Texas' 14th district is an open seat with a Republican partisanship of 61%. Republican Randy Weber should win in this seat as a result.