No one doubts that the outcome of the 2012 elections depends more on the economic trends in the final weeks and months of the campaign than anything else. But if you had to bet right now, the Dems’ have a better shot at winning back control of the House of Reps than holding the Senate, where they have to defend 23 seats compared to the Republicans’ 10.
But winning back a House majority is going to be a daunting challenge if current economic conditions hold, which is the most prudent conclusion that can be drawn from Kyle Kondik’s “Fortress Blue, Fortress Red: The partisan bedrock of the new House” at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball. As Kondik explains:
Based on the latest Crystal Ball ratings, less than one in four of the 435 House seats will be competitive next year, and if one only considers the seats we rate as “leaning” to one party or the other or as “toss-ups,” there are only 46 truly competitive contests, or about 10% of all House seats….Republicans have, based on the Crystal Ball’s ratings, 186 safe seats going into the 2012 election. While some of these seats could become competitive as the election gets closer, we feel confident that they will be part of the Republican column when the 113th Congress convenes in 2013….While Republicans control much of the South and the Heartland, the heart of the Democrats’ power in the House — 150 seats that the Crystal Ball believes are safe for Team Blue, at least for now — is on the East and West coasts….
Kondik presents a chart breaking down the full House delegation of every state into “Safe,” “Likely,” and “Lean” categories for both parties, as well as “Toss-up.” He also provides separate charts for “Competitive House Races” for Dems and the GOP, each divided into “Toss-up,” “Lean” and “Likely” sub-categories. Only 7 Dems seats are rated “Toss-Ups,” compared to 8 for Republicans. Kondik rates 13 Dem-held seats as leaning Democratic, with 18 GOP-held seats leaning Republican. For seats designated “Likely,” he sees Republicans having an 8-seat advantage.
These ratings are more useful to both parties in terms of allocating economic and manpower resources than for predicting outcomes. Kondik also provides regional and state analysis, which may be of use in budgeting for media ads.
All of the usual caveats for snapshot data analysis apply, and Kondik notes that the redistricting process is not yet complete across the nation, a significant factor. Barring a “throw all the bums out” sentiment sweeping the nation next fall, or a broad public souring on GOP obstructionism, one year out, it looks like Dems will have to work harder than ever win House control.