A Doomsday Wave Isn’t Necessary to Flip the House

This tweet made by Nate Silver earlier this morning drew in a lot of eyes, and rightfully so: he applied the underperformance to every district and it yielded a bloodbath. David Freddoso at the Washington Examiner did the same and found a massive 300+ seat majority for the Democrats. It highlights the shift that happened last night well. So will the Democrats gain over a hundred seats next year?

Probably not. Triple digit losses in the House of Representatives coincided with depressions and/or party chaos: 1894 in the case of the Democrats, who bled 107 seats, and 1932 in the case of the Republicans, who bled 101 seats. A depression could materialize out of the ether, but doesn’t appear likely. Spilling out of the economic situation and furthering the gargantuan swing of 1894 was the fracturing of the Democratic Party. The out-party can make serious gains when the in-party is divided against itself. While this too could materialize, so far no giant war within the GOP has erupted approaching the scale of the populist Democrats versus Bourbon Democrats of the late 19th century.

Beyond the extraordinary circumstances that yield incredible losses, you can’t really apply a twenty point shift to every single race realistically, as each contest will have it’s own unique forces at play. Some incumbents are more aware of shifting circumstances than others, some are better at fundraising, some even safer than this current margin could get caught off guard, and there are those few that somehow avoid getting swept away in even the worst waves. Despite residing in districts that voted for John McCain, nearly a dozen Democratic incumbents survived the 2010 Republican landslide.

The bigger point of Silver and Freddoso’s doomsday wave is this: you don’t need that much to actually flip the house. While this scenario shows ten dozen seats flipping, Democrats need to net just twenty-five between now and next November to grab the gavel back. The two Congressional races held so far this year (in CA34 and KS04) have seen a double-digit shift in margins, and that merits further exploration. Republicans aren’t as enthusiastic to show up to every race, as they’re already in power, but Democrats have become activated and animated on every contest that rolls down the river. Republicans hoping to retain control of the House will be keen to the energy building, while Democrats focus on harnessing it.