Why I Remain Skeptical That Democrats Will Take Back the House

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

The chart on the right shows the current state of polling for the generic congressional ballot. By “generic,” we’re talking about polling questions that don’t ask about specific candidates, but just ask which party you plan to vote for. For example: “If the election for the U.S. House of Representatives in November were being held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate in your congressional district?”

At of today, Democrats lead the generic ballot by a little over four points. My initial reaction when I saw this was a shrug. My longtime understanding is that Democrats almost always do well in these polls, but on election day Republicans typically outperform the generic ballot by four or five points. So this result suggests that Republicans might lose some House seats but retain their majority.

That’s why I’m skeptical of Sam Wang’s most recent projection that Democrats have a 74% chance of retaking control of the House. In a post that’s gotten a lot of attention today, Sam basically says two things:

  1. The generic ballot predicts the eventual national House vote.
  2. The national House vote predicts the margin of House seats.

I’m sold on #2: the national vote really does correspond pretty closely to the actual number of seats won. But I’m not sold on #1 unless I see more evidence. It’s possible that my rule of thumb (Republicans outperform the generic ballot by four or five points) is only true for early polling, and by September that systematic edge goes away. Or maybe it goes away once the pollsters start consistently applying their likely voter screens. Or something. But one way or another, I’d like to see some evidence that generic ballots do a good job of predicting the eventual House vote. Until then, I remain skeptical that Democrats are really in the lead.

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate