Democrats' uphill House climb isn't as steep as we thought

First things first: The theme song of the week is ...

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 6:17 AM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 6:17 AM

First things first: The theme song of the week is Hill Street Blues by Mike Post from the television show "Hill Street Blues."

Poll of the week: A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows 50% of voters prefer November's election to result in a Democratic-controlled Congress compared with 42% of voters who prefer a Republican-controlled Congress.

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This result is in-line with other polls from NBC News/Wall Street Journal and from other generic ballot polls more generally.

What's the point: The big question for the generic ballot is what exactly does it mean?

At the most basic level, the generic ballot can be seen as an estimation of the House popular vote. Given where the generic ballot average is at this point (an 8-point Democratic advantage), there is roughly an 6 to 8 point margin of error in predicting the final vote. In other words, Democrats end up winning by double digits or roughly tied with Republicans. That's far from perfect, though is actually more predictive than an average for a Senate race would be at this point.

Importantly, the generic ballot is one of a number of tools that can be used to figure out how many seats each party will win in the House. On this measure Democrats have picked up ground since the beginning of the year.

For a slew of reasons (gerrymandering, Democratic voters packing themselves into cities and the incumbency advantage), we've known for a while that Democrats would need to win a lot more votes than Republicans to take a majority of seats in the House.

The exact margin though is likely to be smaller than we thought it would be at the beginning of the cycle. It may be closer to 6 points than 8 points. And while 6 is still significantly greater than 0, it's much more doable than 8.

With a few exceptions, Democrats have consistently held a lead in the area of 8 points on the generic ballot all year long. If Democrats needed to win the national House vote by 8 points in order to take back the chamber, they would be no more than a 50-50 proposition to do so.

Instead, Democrats are now a moderate favorite to win the House given the generic ballot.

So what has made the Democrats' job easier?

First, the Republican incumbency advantage has shrunk because so many GOP representatives have retired. Around 40 Republicans decided not to seek re-election. That's the highest number for the Republicans in the last three decades. It's a significantly greater share than the number of Democrats who decided to hang it up this year.

The retirements are important because, controlling for everything else, incumbents tend to get a larger share of the vote than a party's nominee would be expected to get if the incumbent wasn't running. Although the advantage has shrunk over time, it's still in the area of 5 percentage points. In close races, that can make all the difference in the world.

Second, the Democrats caught a fairly big break when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to redraw the state's congressional maps. The map wasn't the "game changer" that some perhaps thought it was. Still, it shifted at least two seats into the Democratic column that otherwise most likely would have been won by the Republicans. When translating the national House vote into seats won, two seats is worth at least half a point. Further, the map changes in Pennsylvania caused at least one Republican to retire who might otherwise have not, which in turn limited the Republican incumbency advantage nationally.

Finally, Democrats have been outraising Republicans like crazy. There were 56 challenger Democrats last quarter who outraised the Republican incumbents they are taking on in the fall. That's actually greater than the number of challengers who outraised incumbents in the wave cycle of 2010.

Money matters for a few reasons. On the most basic level, it can be used for advertisements to build up name recognition. (Some of the incumbency advantage is simply being better known than your opponent.) Money also is an indication of candidate quality. When a candidate can raise money, it can be an indication of the work ethic necessary to win a House campaign. Moreover, voters tend to give money to those candidates who they think have a chance of winning.

And right now, the money going to key House campaigns could help tighten the close races. That will in turn help lower the margin by which Democrats need to win nationally just a little bit. In the battle for the house, that may be all Democrats need.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 110759

Reported Deaths: 3503
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20645758
Lake10172317
Elkhart6321108
St. Joseph600797
Allen5921200
Hamilton4646109
Vanderburgh327129
Hendricks2638121
Monroe236836
Johnson2250122
Tippecanoe218413
Clark210156
Porter203344
Cass19279
Delaware184261
Vigo175722
Madison156575
LaPorte135637
Floyd130061
Howard127063
Kosciusko118717
Bartholomew114557
Warrick111935
Marshall98024
Boone94446
Dubois94018
Hancock90042
Noble87632
Grant86733
Henry75424
Wayne73714
Jackson7319
Morgan69438
Shelby66329
Daviess63927
LaGrange62911
Dearborn62128
Clinton59112
Harrison55624
Putnam5209
Montgomery50221
Lawrence50028
White47814
Knox4769
Gibson4644
Decatur45339
DeKalb44211
Miami4223
Fayette41713
Greene41535
Jasper3802
Steuben3647
Scott35310
Sullivan32812
Jennings30812
Posey2940
Franklin29325
Clay2925
Orange28224
Ripley2788
Carroll26913
Wabash2608
Washington2571
Starke2487
Wells2472
Whitley2476
Adams2403
Jefferson2403
Fulton2302
Huntington2173
Spencer2154
Tipton21522
Randolph2067
Perry20213
Newton17011
Jay1680
Owen1641
Martin1590
Rush1494
Pike1361
Vermillion1250
Fountain1152
Blackford1142
Pulaski1131
Crawford1020
Brown1013
Parke932
Benton880
Union770
Ohio767
Switzerland680
Warren401
Unassigned0225

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 143547

Reported Deaths: 4612
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin25846603
Cuyahoga17041642
Hamilton12698307
Montgomery7443152
Lucas7091357
Butler558699
Summit5073248
Marion305747
Mahoning2988279
Warren289348
Stark2723168
Pickaway262844
Lorain225386
Delaware211620
Fairfield199950
Columbiana191880
Licking185362
Trumbull1847131
Clark170738
Wood167971
Clermont161120
Lake157249
Medina142038
Allen136567
Miami134149
Greene133827
Portage106466
Mercer104417
Tuscarawas91020
Wayne89866
Erie89644
Ross84922
Richland78119
Madison77612
Darke75939
Belmont70527
Geauga70147
Hancock6559
Ashtabula64148
Athens5882
Lawrence58818
Auglaize5629
Shelby5619
Sandusky55420
Putnam53723
Huron5217
Union4832
Ottawa46430
Scioto4596
Seneca43514
Preble41813
Holmes3707
Muskingum3672
Jefferson3184
Henry29412
Logan2913
Champaign2873
Perry2849
Defiance27910
Clinton27813
Knox27815
Brown2732
Hardin24913
Morrow2472
Washington24623
Fulton2321
Coshocton23011
Jackson2284
Fayette2256
Ashland2224
Highland2203
Crawford2176
Wyandot20112
Williams1973
Gallia17912
Meigs1709
Hocking1599
Guernsey1557
Pike1530
Carroll1497
Adams1204
Van Wert1103
Monroe10618
Paulding1010
Harrison601
Morgan460
Vinton453
Noble260
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