By Alan I. Abramowitz
Jonathan Krasno’s analysis of redistricting and competition in House elections is right on the money. As Brad Alexander, Matt Gunning, and I recently argued in The Journal of Politics1, redistricting has been a minor factor in the decline of competition in House elections. There are fewer marginal House districts today than there were 20 or 30 years ago, but that’s mainly because of demographic change and ideological realignment within the electorate, not redistricting. The same trend can be seen at the state and county level even though the boundaries of states and counties have not changed. But there are more than enough marginal districts to produce a swing of at least 15 seats, which is all that Democrats need in 2006 to regain control of the House.
What is required to shift a substantial number of House seats, and what has been lacking in recent elections, is a combination of a strong national tide and quality challengers in districts with potentially vulnerable incumbents. Both of these conditions appear to be present in 2006. George Bush’s approval rating remains stuck below 40 percent. The Republican Congress is even less popular. As a result, Democrats have held a consistent lead of 10-12 points in the “generic vote” for Congress. And Democrats have recruited enough quality challengers to put a substantial number of Republican seats in play. In the most recent Cook Political Report, 14 GOP seats were classified as tossups and 21 were classified as leaning Republican. Not one Democratic seat was classified as a tossup and only 10 were classified as leaning Democratic. While the 2006 midterm election is unlikely to produce a shift of the magnitude of 1994, a Democratic gain of at least 15 seats is well within the realm of possibility.
1Alan Abramowitz, Brad Alexander, and Matthew Gunning, “Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections,” Journal of Politics, 68 (1), February 2006, 75-88.