With a little more than three months left until Election Day, Democrats seem to be strengthening their position to win control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.
Two data points will suffice to explain the situation right now:
- On Tuesday, the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball, one of the nation’s premier election forecasters, changed its ratings for 17 House districts — and all of them moved in favor of Democrats.
- Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot, if you go by the RealClearPolitics polling average, has quietly doubled (and then some) since the beginning of June, from a mere 3.2 percentage points to a healthy 7.1 points. That is roughly the margin political science nerds think they need.
If you want to add a third point, Democrats have been posting very strong fundraising numbers, with Democratic challengers outraising GOP incumbents in some of the nation’s most competitive districts, as Vox’s Tara Golshan recently noted.
“Put it all together, and the Democrats now look like soft favorites to win a House majority with a little more than 100 days to go,” the Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik wrote on Tuesday. He emphasized how reluctant they have been to move the odds from 50-50, but the indicators for Democrats keep looking better and better.
A quick assessment of the House battleground further supports the case.
One GOP-held seat — in now de-gerrymandered Pennsylvania — is considered a Safe Democratic win; two others are considered Likely Democratic pickups. Four Republican districts — three of which are open seats with no incumbent — fall in the Lean Democratic camp, and 33 GOP-held seats are rated as toss-ups, according to the Crystal Ball.
If you added the 16 seats that merely Lean Republican, then the 2018 House battlefield equals around 60 districts. Democrats need to flip 24 Republican seats to take back the House. By the looks of things, they could win less than half of the competitive districts and still pull it off.
Just one Democratic seat is considered a Safe Republican win (again, a result of the Pennsylvania redistricting) and only two Democratic-held seats are rated as toss-ups. In other words, almost the entire 2018 campaign will be fought over GOP-held territory.
On the one hand, good Democratic odds shouldn’t be such a shock. The minority party’s gains in midterm elections are a fact of life in American politics. President Trump, in spite of relatively strong economic indicators, is pretty unpopular. Issues like health care promise to dominate the campaign, and voters prefer Democrats to Republicans in key policy debates.
But Democrats are still facing a heavily gerrymandered House map, and the frank reality that their (younger) supporters have historically been less reliable voters in midterm elections than the GOP’s (older) base. Recent polling underscored the real risk that millennial voters won’t turn out as hoped.
So everything could still go wrong for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. But with about 100 days left in the campaign, they have a lot of reasons to be optimistic.