Democrats' uphill House climb isn't as steep as we thought

First things first: The theme song of the week is ...

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 5:17 AM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 5:17 AM

First things first: The theme song of the week is Hill Street Blues by Mike Post from the television show "Hill Street Blues."

Poll of the week: A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows 50% of voters prefer November's election to result in a Democratic-controlled Congress compared with 42% of voters who prefer a Republican-controlled Congress.

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This result is in-line with other polls from NBC News/Wall Street Journal and from other generic ballot polls more generally.

What's the point: The big question for the generic ballot is what exactly does it mean?

At the most basic level, the generic ballot can be seen as an estimation of the House popular vote. Given where the generic ballot average is at this point (an 8-point Democratic advantage), there is roughly an 6 to 8 point margin of error in predicting the final vote. In other words, Democrats end up winning by double digits or roughly tied with Republicans. That's far from perfect, though is actually more predictive than an average for a Senate race would be at this point.

Importantly, the generic ballot is one of a number of tools that can be used to figure out how many seats each party will win in the House. On this measure Democrats have picked up ground since the beginning of the year.

For a slew of reasons (gerrymandering, Democratic voters packing themselves into cities and the incumbency advantage), we've known for a while that Democrats would need to win a lot more votes than Republicans to take a majority of seats in the House.

The exact margin though is likely to be smaller than we thought it would be at the beginning of the cycle. It may be closer to 6 points than 8 points. And while 6 is still significantly greater than 0, it's much more doable than 8.

With a few exceptions, Democrats have consistently held a lead in the area of 8 points on the generic ballot all year long. If Democrats needed to win the national House vote by 8 points in order to take back the chamber, they would be no more than a 50-50 proposition to do so.

Instead, Democrats are now a moderate favorite to win the House given the generic ballot.

So what has made the Democrats' job easier?

First, the Republican incumbency advantage has shrunk because so many GOP representatives have retired. Around 40 Republicans decided not to seek re-election. That's the highest number for the Republicans in the last three decades. It's a significantly greater share than the number of Democrats who decided to hang it up this year.

The retirements are important because, controlling for everything else, incumbents tend to get a larger share of the vote than a party's nominee would be expected to get if the incumbent wasn't running. Although the advantage has shrunk over time, it's still in the area of 5 percentage points. In close races, that can make all the difference in the world.

Second, the Democrats caught a fairly big break when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to redraw the state's congressional maps. The map wasn't the "game changer" that some perhaps thought it was. Still, it shifted at least two seats into the Democratic column that otherwise most likely would have been won by the Republicans. When translating the national House vote into seats won, two seats is worth at least half a point. Further, the map changes in Pennsylvania caused at least one Republican to retire who might otherwise have not, which in turn limited the Republican incumbency advantage nationally.

Finally, Democrats have been outraising Republicans like crazy. There were 56 challenger Democrats last quarter who outraised the Republican incumbents they are taking on in the fall. That's actually greater than the number of challengers who outraised incumbents in the wave cycle of 2010.

Money matters for a few reasons. On the most basic level, it can be used for advertisements to build up name recognition. (Some of the incumbency advantage is simply being better known than your opponent.) Money also is an indication of candidate quality. When a candidate can raise money, it can be an indication of the work ethic necessary to win a House campaign. Moreover, voters tend to give money to those candidates who they think have a chance of winning.

And right now, the money going to key House campaigns could help tighten the close races. That will in turn help lower the margin by which Democrats need to win nationally just a little bit. In the battle for the house, that may be all Democrats need.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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