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Generic House Polling Suggests the Republicans Could Regain the House in 2010

Under the heading, “Republicans not in a position to retake the House (yet),” Chris Bowers estimates that the Democrats have a 41.2%-37.7% lead in recent generic House polling. Bowers writes, “Democrats are, after all, still winning.”

But it’s not so simple. In research published a couple years ago, Joe Bafumi, Bob Erikson, and Chris Wlezien found that, yes, generic party ballots are highly predictive of House voting–especially in the month or two before the election-but that early polling can be improved by adjusting for political conditions. In particular, the out-party consistently outperforms the generic polls.


The paper accompanying this graph was among the first public predictions of a Democratic takeover in 2006.

Bafumi, Erikson, and Wlezien’s analysis doesn’t go back before 300 days before the election, but if we take the liberty of extrapolating . . . The current state of the generic polls gives the Democrats .412/(.412+.377) = 52% of the two-party vote. Going to the graph, we see, first, that 52% for the Democrats is near historic lows (comparable to 1946, 1994, and 1998) and that the expected Democratic vote–given that their party holds the White House–is around -3%, or a 53-47 popular vote win for the Republicans.

Would 53% of the popular vote be enough for the Republicans to win a House majority? A quick look, based on my analysis with John Kastellec and Jamie Chandler of seats and votes in Congress, suggests yes.

It’s still early–and there’s a lot of scatter in those scatterplots–but if the generic polls remain this close, the Republican Party looks to be in good shape in the 2010.

P.S. Is there any hope for the Democrats? Sure. Beyond the general uncertainty in prediction, there is the general unpopularity of Republicans; also, it will be year 2 of the presidential term, not year 6 which is historically the really bad year for the incumbent party. Still and all, the numbers now definitely do not look good for the Democrats.


  1. William Ockham says:

    Do you really think that there will be 9 point swing towards the Republicans in 2010? I don't think there is any chance that will happen. Is the Republican party in better shape today than it was in November 2002? I don't think so.

    Here's what I think is going on. Pew (whose polling I trust a lot more than most of the other outfits polling the generic ballot right now) shows the Dems with a 1 point lead (compared to eight point lead in Nov. 2006) in the generic ballot. Using the formula in Bafumi, Erikson, and Wlezien's paper, that would put the Dem's vote at 49%. Or, if you apply the registered voter poll correction, 48%. However, I think the Dems are in much better shape than that. As you've pointed out, the structural advantages are now in their favor. I think the demographic changes in the electorate mean that the regressions from the past don't really apply. (btw, why do quantitative social scientists think the electoral system in the late '40's is comparable to the current system? Have you guys ever heard of Wesberry v. Sanders? Or do you know how many electoral votes Strom Thurmond got in the 1948 presidential election and what percentage of the popular vote he got?) Inevitably, the generic ballot outlook for the Dems will improve between now and the 2010 elections. I seriously doubt they will pick up seats, but their majority simply isn't in doubt. The Republicans are way too busy alienating Hispanics and everybody under the age of 40 to build a governing majority.

  2. romulusnr says:

    And here I thought that *losing* at health care reform would be their "waterloo" and destroy them! Now it's the *passing* of health care that is bad for them! Now we're hearing that popularity is bad for them! I suppose if they swung the tide of campaign funding we would hear how being the richer candidate would be disaster! Everything apparently spells doom in November for Democrats — succeeding at their agenda, failing at their agenda, higher taxes, lower taxes, being pro-gay, being anti-gay, being pro-choice, being pro-life, making it rain, making the sun come out, manna from heaven, rain of frogs, you name it, it's all Bad For Democrats.

    Uh huh.

  3. Ockham's Razor says:

    Inevitably, the generic ballot outlook for the Dems will improve between now and the 2010 elections. I seriously doubt they will pick up seats, but their majority simply isn't in doubt.

    RCP generic ballot average 9/23/09: D +2.2
    RCP generic ballot average 8/13/10: R +4.4
    Predicted margin by Bafumi et al: R +10%
    2006 actual margin: D +8%
    1994 actual margin: R +7%
    2010 implied seat pickups: R +60
    Intrade prediction of R House takeover: 69.9%

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