While the 17-seat majority Republicans currently hold may seem like the House should be play, the shrinking pool of competitive seats after 2012 redistricting has made Democrats' task of winning back the majority nearly impossible.
A new study from the non-partisan group Fair Vote highlights exactly just how limited the opportunities for any major shift are. According to their analysis, redistricting and the current winner-take-all system have produced safer seats, helped ingrain more incumbents, and made the potential for any major shift remote.
Fair Vote executive director Rob Richie was on this morning’s The Daily Rundown to delve deeper in to exactly why his group sees such a limited playing field – and how they believe election reform could be the answer to more competitive contests.
“We have a smaller field, all the same and there is a theory of the big sort that voters are literally moving to different areas and making them stronger,” said Richie. “What we're seeing is a decline in competition generally. When that applies to the house, when you have that one sided advantage, you look in the advantage and generally lock in the fact the incumbents can't lose in a general, only a primary.”
Competitive seats have been in decline for decades, there was an especially sharp drop in 2012. After the 2010 GOP wave, Republicans didn’t just pick up 63 House seats – they also gained control of many governorship s and state Houses at a critical time. Republicans didn’t just make Democratic-held seats less safe, they solidified many GOP-held ones, including seats they’d just picked up in critical states like Texas and Florida.
In 2012, Fair Vote group predicted the outcome of 333 House races and correctly projected each one. Now, looking ahead to 2014, only 21 House races – less than five percent – are true toss-ups – and 262 incumbents are in safe races unlikely to fluctuate. There are 61 races they’re not projecting because of outside factors, such as the tumultuous special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, and other scandals or unexpected twists could certainly shift seats into play that shouldn't be.
Non-partisan handicappers agree – the Cook Political Report currently lists only seven races as toss-ups, with 22 either in Lean Republican or Democrat, while the Rothenberg Political Report lists five at pure toss-ups, 13 as Toss-Up/Tilt Republican or Democrat, and 11 as Lean Republican or Democrats.
The Cook Political Report released their new Partisan Voting Index scores last month, and also showed a steep decrease in competitive seats. According to the Cook Report’s David Wasserman, competitive seats with a PVI between R+5 and D+5 dropped from 103 to 99 after redistricting, but after the 2012 vote, they shrunk even more down to 90. Since 1998, that’s a 45 percent drop.
In 2014, Fair Vote expects Republicans to pick up 48 more victories than Democrats. In order to beat the odds, Democrats would need to win 55 of the 61 special factor races – but would also need to outperform the GOP by 10 points nationally.
A Quinnipiac University poll out today showed Democrats with a four point edge in the generic ballot, but the limited playing field they’re handicapped by make that slim national edge over the GOP irrelevant. Although voters showed they preferred Democrats 41 percent to 37 percent, it’s hardly a big enough advantage toward one party or the other to shift House seats significantly, absent a national wave.
Check back tomorrow on The Daily Rundown online for our deeper look at some of the key House races each party does believe is in play heading into 2014.