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February 6, 2016

Is the Senate More Volatile Than the House in 2014?

Next year, voters will go to the polls to elect 435 House members and 35 United States senators, but it seems quite possible that there will be more net change in the Senate than in the House.

If this occurs, it would be worth noting, since it has happened only twice during midterm elections going back to the Civil War, according to “Vital Statistics on American Politics 2007-2008.”

In 1986, Republicans lost seats in both chambers of Congress, but their losses were greater in the Senate (eight seats) than in the House (a mere five seats). The only other case of this happening since 1866 occurred in 1934, when Democrats gained nine seats in the House but added 10 seats in the Senate.

During most midterms (and indeed during most elections), including those with partisan waves and those without them, the net change in the House has been larger than it has been in the Senate. Given the relatively few Senate seats up compared with the number in the House, it isn’t at all surprising that the sheer number of Senate swings have tended to be smaller.

But this year, with the House playing field so narrow and Democrats having to defend a large handful of Senate seats that could prove difficult to hold, the net change in the Senate could be larger than the net change in the House. There are 21 Democratic seats up, but only 14 GOP seats in 2014 (two of those seats, South Carolina and Hawaii, are special elections).

Republicans seem almost guaranteed to net additional Senate seats in the 2014 midterms. With two highly vulnerable Democratic open Senate seats already on the books (West Virginia and South Dakota) and at least five other Democratic seats at greater risk than even the most vulnerable GOP seat, Democratic Senate losses are virtually assured.

But, of course, there is a big difference between a Republican gain of two Senate seats, versus netting six or seven seats.

In at least one respect, the situation in the House is more unsettled, because it is not yet clear which party will net House seats. Since there are so few retirements to this point and candidate recruitment is still far from over, we probably won’t have a good idea about individual races until early next year. But if 2012 was any indication, there are only a relative handful of competitive House seats — maybe 30 seats, divided roughly evenly between the parties — that could flip party control next year.

If this assessment confuses you because you read the June 21 Democracy Corps memo, which asserted that the 2014 battleground presents more opportunities for Democrats than many assume, don’t worry. The Democracy Corps memo is an advocacy document, not an analytic one. It seeks to create competitive races, not merely reflect the competitive nature of the 2014 midterm elections. For example, few, if any, of the districts in the memo’s Tier 2 GOP Battleground districts table will be very competitive next year.

The handful of well-established folks who follow individual House races on a daily basis — and that’s a very limited universe that includes the Cook Political Report, Roll Call, The Hotline and the Rothenberg Political Report — all agree that the House playing field this cycle is narrow and Democrats will have great difficulty making large gains.

It is, of course, possible that Republicans, not Democrats, could make House gains next year, but again they have relatively few opportunities, especially in a relatively neutral national political environment.

There is another way that next year’s elections could be unusual.

Only three times in 24 midterm elections since World War I — in 1962, 1970 and 1982 — has the party that gained seats in the House lost seats in the Senate. That, too, is possible next year, if Republicans make Senate gains but Democrats make a small gain in the House.

Thankfully, Democrats have been careful not to talk about winning back the House this cycle. It is refreshing when a dose of realism, however small, creeps into the national discussion. But it is still too early to know how the 2014 midterms will unfold, since there are so many domestic and international question marks.

For now, however, there is at least some reason to believe that next year’s midterm elections could go down as an oddity in American history.

  • keith12345

    All the experts were convinced the GOP was going to pick up a lot of Senate seats in 2012, too, when Democrats were defending even more vulnerable seats than they will be in 2014. And look what happened. Even in conservative places, people decided they had enough of the GOP. The same will happen in 2014, and the experts will all be wrong again. The GOP are a bunch of looney Tea Party fanatics that are on the verge of becoming a permanent minority fringe party.

    • acriticalthinker

      To borrow a sentence from Mr. Rotherberg, your comment “is an advocacy document, not an analytic one.” Otherwise called fantasy or “wishful thinking.”

      • robertthomason

        Or “magical thinking”

    • Southernationalist

      The Negroes and Latinos are unlikely to show up at the polls without their Homey leading the ticket. Ditto for the principled Progressive morons. Whites on the other hand are furious and will be marching to the polls like an avenging army to vote against the Hawaiian-born Kenyan national. You can kiss Hagan, Pryor and Landrieu (a villain straight out of Star Trek) goodbye. Add in the vacant seats in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia and Obama is neutered and the investigations can really get off the ground. How Sweet It Is!

      • Gary Flinn

        The Obama political machine will be in full force next year and lead to some surprises.

        • robertthomason

          I’m afraid you are correct.

        • HarshTimes

          The OFA will not make appreciable changes in the reliably red areas — he didn’t carry them during his own election effort and he won’t influence anyone to change their minds in 2014.

          • Gary Flinn

            The Supreme Court decision taking the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act will cause minorities to vote in larger numbers.

          • aeduran

            In 2016, maybe. 2014, not so much.

          • Gary Flinn

            Remember what happened in Texas overnight???? Women are enraged. Here in Michgian, governor Snyder had betrayed workers, seniors, poor people, etc. Once again, the Obama political machine and enraged voters reacting to what the Christian Taliban and racists in legislatures have done will vote in large numbers.

      • Monab

        how many drafts did you go through to end up with this rather disgusting, intellectually vacuous post?

      • Ryan Darby

        Pro-tip, the South will never rise again, because it’s composed of morons like you.

      • Bye Bye Jobs

        I love the Southerners, but you need to go back to Landrieu, O’Malley and Schweitzer. Then we can primary in conservative or moderate Democrats and a better cache of Republicans. You do both parties a favor.

    • Bye Bye Jobs

      Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Pete “Chinky Chao” Hoekstra, then the ND and MT conservatives I am convinced were on the Heidi and Tester payroll. The Republicans need to cashier the far right.

  • ID-2

    I happened to read Democracy Corps memo this weekend and Rothenburg is absolutely right. It is nothing more than an advocacy document. It is noticeable how their survey only tests Democratic attacks and not GOP attacks. It also assumes a lot about which districts are competitive. Heck, it has MN-6 in its most competitive districts, this after Bachmann announced she would retire. In short, at this stage Rothenburg is right to call Dem. Corps memory an advocacy document because no other polling backs it up.

    • Winston Blake

      Sodom Hussein Obama…

  • phillyfanatic

    The Obama madness on legislation that is bad for America continues through Ex. Orders ala climate, and more unholy anti-American baloney but Stu has some good points here. Still, with immigration changing minds perhaps in some border states, one is not sure that his view that Dems are all going to be safe except 2 Senate races will work out. Still again, the Pubs will once more snatch losses from the jaws of victory. Pryor might lose in Ark. N. Dak. might not go Dem. Why should it??? Are those voters unaware that anymore Dems added to the House or Senate will mean more Obama destruction and support for said destruction of our heritage, economy, military,legal energy systems, our history and values???????

  • Winston Blake


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