Site icon Split Ticket

House Temperature Check: 9/18

Six months have passed since we released our 2024 House ratings, following the lackluster showing by Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections. Since then, the national environment seems to have improved for Democrats and critical mid-decade redistricting is on the horizon in a number of important states. In light of these developments, we’re modifying our House ratings to be more consistent with the national picture and with each other. These changes will stay in place until we release our official 2024 models.

The National Environment — Where Are We Now?

Quantifying a future political environment can be very challenging when predicting elections more than a year out, especially without consistent generic ballot poll releases. However, there are already some reliable indicators suggesting a generally favorable political climate for Democrats. 

Using our SHAVE algorithm, which accounts for uncontested seats, we calculated generic ballot estimates that factored in uncontested seats for each election from 2008 through 2022. Take 2020, for instance, where Democrats won the generic ballot by 2.1 points, substantially narrower than Joe Biden’s 4.3-point popular vote win in the fifty states. Likewise, in 2022, Republicans only won the generic ballot by 1.6 points despite more comfortably winning the apparent House popular vote. 

When we broadly compare the generic ballot estimates from 2020 and 2022, the results align with what one might expect following the first midterm of an unpopular Democratic president: most states shifted toward the Republican side. While it’s true that the GOP only secured 222 House seats, underperforming relative to expectations, the overall political climate in 2022 still favored Republicans more than it did Democrats. However, it’s important to note that there were notable regional variations in these shifts. 

For instance, in states like New York and Florida, the “red wave” was felt strongly. In other states such as Texas and Virginia, the impact was more subdued. The Upper Midwest and Plains states, conversely, moved slightly leftward compared to their 2020 generic ballots. Colorado and Washington even experienced a significant shift toward the Democrats, partly due to underperformances from controversial Republican candidates Lauren Boebert (CO-03) and Joe Kent (WA-03).

It’s a reasonable assumption that the “Dobbs effect,” coupled with factors like candidate quality and rising negative polarization, played a role in preventing Republicans from achieving a performance similar to their strong showings in 2010 or 2014. Democrats capitalized on dissatisfaction with the Court’s decision to appeal to high-propensity, persuadable voters, which helped them overperform in key swing districts across the country. 

As a result, Republican gains in the House were limited, and the overall political landscape seemed more favorable to Democrats than it truly was. However, despite these nuances and regional differences, the national political environment in 2022 still leaned more Republican than not and was visibly redder than it was in 2020. 

In the context of the 2024 elections, it makes sense for forecasters to lean more on 2020 as an environmental benchmark compared to 2022. Presidential cycles typically have a normalizing effect on midterm political dynamics, especially regional variation, because they coincide with a nationwide election where the same question is decided in every state, leading to more consistent electorate turnout.

If this logic holds up, a return to a Presidential-year environment would see most states get bluer in 2024 relative to 2022. However, states like Michigan, which already shifted toward the Democrats from 2020 to 2022, could move in the other direction if Republican base turnout increases, or if the issue set in such states becomes more favorable for the GOP.

But conventional wisdom about normalizing effects isn’t the only evidence for the national environment currently benefiting Democrats. This year alone, Democrats have overperformed by an average of 5.8% relative to 2020 district partisanship in special elections. Notably, Democrats have even overperformed in districts where demographics wouldn’t expect them to do so, like Pennsylvania’s HD-108. This suggests that Republicans may have a problem running deeper than persuadable voters in swing seats. 

It’s crucial to remember, though, that special elections are not a perfect measure of the political climate. They can capture a general picture of the national environment, showing which party has the advantage, but they should not be used to make specific predictions – especially since Democrats now arguably benefit from turnout dynamics in off-season special elections.

In the absence of regular generic ballot polling, the pattern of Democratic special election overperformances suggests that Democrats currently lead the generic ballot and that Republicans are not yet succeeding in reversing Democrats’ post-Dobbs gains. This November’s elections could offer a reality check for that assumption.

Assuming Democrats are in the lead, the national environment can be understood as bluer than 2022, at the very least. Under those circumstances, Republicans would be hard-pressed to hold their slim House majority — even without mid-decade redistricting developments, set to favor Democrats as a whole. 

Mid-Decade Redistricting & Ratings Changes

Now that we’ve set an environmental benchmark, we can get into our ratings changes. However, it’s important to note some rules. 

The first deals with mid-decade redistricting. Over a dozen districts could see significant changes before November 2024. We already know Alabama will have to draw a second majority-Black district following the Milligan decision, but Democrats may end up getting a boost from new maps related to other cases in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, and New York. 

Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to benefit from a new gerrymander in North Carolina. They may also be able to cut their losses in Wisconsin, where liberals now control a majority on the state Supreme Court, by implementing an “Iowa-model” nonpartisan redistricting commission, though it’s unclear if such a plan would get veto-proof support in the legislature. A previously-expected new map in Ohio is notably out of the running, with the State Supreme Court allowing the current map to stay in effect for the next cycle.

All House ratings in states that could see mid-decade redistricting before 2024 will reflect the 2022 map until a new one is enacted. We can’t make ratings for maps that don’t exist.

Additionally, we’ve more generously rated certain incumbents (mostly WAR overperformers) who would be numerically favored to lose or have much closer races based on their districts alone.

Most of our changes are meant to make our House ratings more consistent with our partisan environment assumption of about D+2 and with each other. In Florida, for example, four new ratings better reflect district partisanship and WAR scores. Underperformers like Anna Paulina Luna (FL-13) and Cory Mills (FL-07) are still favored to win, but they shouldn’t be expected to outperform their 2022 benchmarks as Florida will almost certainly be bluer next fall. Of course, if the state loses an expected appeal of a recent state court decision striking down its congressional maps, new ratings will have to be issued.

Strong Republican incumbents like Bill Huizenga (MI-04), Andrew Garbarino (NY-02), and Bryan Steil (WI-01) are all still comfortable favorites for reelection and overperformed in 2022, but their districts are simply too marginal to completely foreclose the possibility of defeat if Democrats run top-tier candidates and allocate sufficient resources, or if political conditions worsen significantly for the GOP.

Our changes also reflect strong Democratic incumbents’ increasing reelection prospects. Hillary Scholten (MI-03), Dan Kildee (MI-08), Pat Ryan (NY-18), and Greg Landsman (OH-01) were all WAR overperformers in 2022 who generally represent Democratic-trending Biden districts and fit well into this category. 

Four vulnerable Republican incumbents also enter the Tossup category: John James (MI-10), Don Bacon (NE-02), Jen Kiggans (VA-02), and Lauren Boebert (CO-03). James represents one of the most marginal seats in Michigan and only won by one point in 2022. He is a WAR underperformer, and there’s reason to believe Democrats could have won his district last year with more investment.

Bacon and Kiggans, conversely, are both WAR overperformers. However, they represent more Democratic seats that also happen to be trending leftward faster. Democrats have already found preferred recruits in Tony Vargas and Missy Cotter Smasal and are set to allocate significant resources in both districts.

Boebert represents a much more Republican district than her counterparts (Trump +8.3), though it too is Democratic trending. Since primarying Scott Tipton in 2020, Boebert’s controversial behavior has contributed to repeated underperformances. In 2022, she beat Democrat Adam Frisch by just 546 votes in a contest that ended up being the closest House race of the year despite having been rated Likely Republican.

Although her district favors Republicans on paper, Boebert’s 10.1-point underperformance will do her no favors in 2024. With Frisch dominating in fundraising and a new scandal on Boebert’s horizon, it’s difficult to say she remains a clear favorite for reelection.

Finally, freshman Republican Anthony D’Esposito (NY-04) moves into the Leans Democratic column. While he did overperform last year, and still has a feasible path to reelection, we have a hard time seeing him having an even shot in his Biden +14.5 seat next fall.

Our initial 2024 House ratings showed Democrats leading Republicans 209-207 with 19 Tossups. Following our changes, Democrats have a 210-203 advantage with 22 Tossups. The battle for control of the House remains very competitive, and the possible addition of new VRA seats thanks to favorable mid-decade redistricting in the South could ultimately help Democrats break historical precedent to flip the House in a presidential year.

Updated Ratings:

Exit mobile version