The 2022 Midterms: Knocking the Narrative, Part III

This article is third in a series of short articles related to the 2022 Midterm Elections. Each article targets a specific narrative being put forward in the media, and evaluates the arguments on their merit. I’ll give the likelihood of each scenario occurring, or an evaluation of the truth or falsehood behind each premise. (If you missed it, click the links for Part I- Biden’s impact on the election, and Part II- the effect of the abortion issue on female voters.)

Narrative 3: The Democrats have a reasonable chance of keeping the House.

Rating: Totally False

If you’ve recently turned on liberal-oriented cable news services like CNN and MSNBC- and judging by the ratings, you haven’t– you may have seen several talking heads selling the case for the Democrats to remain in control of the House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi even recently went on late night TV with Stephen Colbert to talk about the possibility. Legacy media political analysts even give it reasonable chance of happening. Witness this little gem from the New York Times, where Nate Cohen explains the Democratic path to a majority. Further, Nate Silver’s (fivethirtyeight.com) recent models give the Democrats as high as a 3-in-10 odds to hold the House. (Note: Silver has just downgraded the Democratic chances to about 1-in-6.)

In either case, this is as big of a fantasy as your online football team.

Apparently, the media can’t do math.

The numbers simply don’t work. Currently, the Democrats hold a narrow 222-212 majority. The remaining vacated seat (formerly held by the late Jackie Walorski) is considered to be safe for the GOP. That means the Republicans need five more seats to get to the 218 threshold needed to take control. While Silver’s models include outcomes where Democrats gain as many as ten seats, no one really can come up with a realistic scenario of how Democrats can avoid huge losses, much less enjoy gains this November.

Republicans have an advantage in the thrice-fought redistricting battles waged across the country. The GOP stands to gain five seats just from the census generating seats in redder states than blue. That alone will be enough to approach the majority on its own merit. Historically, the incumbent party loses twice the number the GOP needs, even in a good year for the party in power. Raise your hand if you think this has been a good year for the party in power.

Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Economic indicators all point to Republican gains at least in the range of 15 seats, with “red wave” results of close to 25 seats the more normative outcome. RealClearPolitics.com gives a wide range of possibilities for the GOP, anywhere from as few as 15 seats to as many as 48 seats gained, with a mean of +31, based off the seats considered to be in play. This range has increased by about ten seats in the last two weeks. Without taking the time to explain the statistics, both the president’s approval rating and the generic Congressional ballot (polling neutral at best for Democrats) would point to a Republican pick-up comfortably in the double-digits. In no case listed do we see an outcome where the Democrats lose four or fewer seats.

“But what if this isn’t a red wave?”

A similar talking point being floated by the media is that Republicans are not be benefitting from a wave election; therefore, the House must be competitive. This theory is based on the Democrats’ expected range of losses, which is lower than those in previous wave elections. Election models show a range of possibilities that are half of the margins seen in the wave elections of 2010 (R+63) and 2018 (D+41). The GOP could significantly underperform enough to just fall short of a majority if the wave does not materialize. Ergo, no wave means no majority.

I didn’t say it was sound logic.

This notion is a myopic viewpoint that focuses on the net gain, while neglecting the parties’ relative starting positions. No one disputes the GOP enjoyed a wave election in 2014, where they gained 9 Senate seats. Yet in the same year, they only gained 13 seats in the House. That’s because the 13 seats gained were enough to yield the largest Republican majority since 1928. The GOP was already in the majority since 2011, and just expanded it. The larger gains in 2010 and 2018 were due to the gains belonging to minority parties with overall weaker starting positions. In the 2010 election, Republicans started with a mere 179 seats, needing 39 seats just to take the majority. This year, the GOP could get the same 240+ seat majority simply by winning 30 seats instead of over 60.

To crystallize this point, a “red wave” doesn’t necessarily mean a gain of over thirty seats. For a minority party already in striking distance of the majority, you get the same result with fewer seats.

What I think.

As a personal note, I believe the data points to at least a 30-seat gain for the Republicans, and I’d err on the higher end. The “ceiling” for the GOP is higher than normal due to a once-in-a-generation inflation spike. It’s simply a fact that all Democratic candidates in even remotely competitive districts will suffer for it. There will be some surprise upsets that by definition no one will see coming. Those kind of blind-side races skew one direction in a wave election. Unexpected pickups could send the GOP’s gains northward of 40. I’ll post a final, more targeted prediction for Election Day, but my guess is definitely 30+.

Remember, Republicans only need five seats.

It is therefore virtually impossible in any realistic political environment this cycle for the Democrats to hold the House.

Next week: Can the Democrats keep the Senate?

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