Posted by Rich Robinson on October 18, 2017 at 3:11 PM


October 18, 2017

Contact: Rich Robinson, [email protected] or 301.270.4616

Monopoly Politics 2018: Noncompetitive Elections, Advantaged Incumbents, Partizan Skew

FairVote makes high-confidence projections for almost 90 percent of U.S. House seats; Online tool allows anyone to test midterm projections and see race-by-race impact

TAKOMA PARK, Md. -- Election Day 2018 may be almost 13 months away, but FairVote’s new Monopoly Politics 2018 report is able to project the winners of 86 percent of all U.S. House races more than a year in advance -- using only past election results from these districts. It projects the outcome of every seat in more than half of states. The findings were released today by the nonpartisan election reform organization.

Over the last three U.S. House cycles, FairVote’s high-confidence projections have been more than 99.9 percent accurate -- a sign of the troubling predictability of House elections, the advantage of incumbency, and the lack of genuine competition.

FairVote’s also launched an online tool that allows everyone to see projections in every race and the impact of potential changes in the two-party preference between Democrats and Republicans and the level of support for incumbents - factors that tend to affect all races in a “uniform swing.” Users can see the partisan landscape in their district, test their own predictions for the midterms, and measure the impact of different kinds of years. A “summary” box shows the overall impact of a user’s choices, along with state-by-state details in a summary sheet.

“Election Day should be a celebration of American democracy and a sign of the richness of our many perspectives and political viewpoints,” said Rob Richie, FairVote’s executive director. “Instead, we’re likely to re-elect the same polarized incumbents, creating a Congress that does not fairly represent the diversity of American political thought or the perspectives of Americans who fall beyond the current limited range of the two parties. It’s long past time for change. We hope our online tool is useful for those interested in partisan outcomes -- but instructive for all about flaws in our system.”

For 2018, FairVote’s model makes high confidence projections of the winners in 374 of 435 U.S. House races. Of these 374 projections, 208 races are safe for Republicans and 166 are safe for Democrats. Of the 61 seats our high-confidence model did not project, 22 would favor Republicans, 18 favor Democrats, and another 21 are toss-up seats if voter preferences were divided equally between the party and incumbency advantages the same as in 2016. Republicans need only win 10 of the unprojected seats to maintain their majority.

Among the findings:

  • Republicans are likely to maintain control of the House even in a Democratic wave, unless Democrats have more than 55% of the national party preference - which no party has done in House races in decades. In a 50-50 year, Republicans would likely increase their share of House seats to more than 56%.
  • Incumbency triumphs. Largely settled into districts favoring their party, incumbents in 2016 saw a slight increase in their advantage from the last cycle. That led to a re-election rate of 98 percent, an average increase in their winning margin by nearly seven percentage points and 218 Republicans (a majority of the House) winning their seats by more than 12 percentage points in a year when the national party preference was only 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent for Republicans. Expect more than nine in ten incumbents to win in 2018, even with midterm election volatility.
  • Open seats are not so open. There are 30 open seats so far, including 20 now held by Republicans. FairVote issues high confidence projections in 25 of them, including 23 for the incumbent party and two projected to change (one for each party). That leaves only five open seats in play, with Democrats having three Republican targets and Republicans having two Democratic targets.
  • U.S. House elections are not competitive. More than 85 percent of U.S. House districts are completely safe for the party that holds them, and only a small fraction will be true toss-ups in 2018. As a result, millions of Americans are perpetually represented by politicians they oppose, with little hope of changing things at the polls.
  • State delegations are startlingly set in stone. Every incumbent seeking re-election is projected as safe in a total of 27 states. Many of these are large states with multiple seats, including Ohio (all 16 seats safe), Georgia (all 14 seats safe), and North Carolina (all 13 seats safe). All seats are called in 26 states.
  • State delegations are skewed. We have already called more seats for one political party than that party should earn according to its statewide partisanship in 19 states. States where we already safely project that one party will earn at least three seats more than partisanship are North Carolina and Ohio (with a Republican advantage) and Massachusetts (with a Democratic advantage). Massachusetts, which elects 9 Democrats and 0 Republicans, all Democrats are safe -- even though nearly 40% of the state’s voters prefer Republicans.

FairVote’s overall focus in the report is on the problem of incumbent entrenchment in our modern climate of fierce partisan division. For example, even as Democrats fell far short of taking the House in 2016 in a year of nearly equal support with Republicans among voters, their incumbents did just fine, with only one loss to a Republican.

As the findings of FairVote’s Monopoly Politics report indicate, the system is coping with intense turmoil and division, prompting the organization to also release a new report that simulates the impact of the Fair Representation Act, H.R. 3057. Sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, the bill seeks to open up our troubled electoral system, mend the nation’s partisan divisions and create incentives to encourage more collaborative governance.

Based on combining ranked choice voting with larger districts that elect more than one person and are drawn by independent redistricting commissions, the Fair Representation Act would have a remarkable impact. A simulation of the plan in all 50 states shows that it would likely:

  • Remove the partisan skew, with the party with the most votes likely to win the most seats
  • Result in shared representation by both major parties in every district
  • Create a large increase in opportunities for women and people of color to win seats.
  • Remove the spoiler impact of third parties and independents

FairVote is a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.

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