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Battle for the House: If you want to know “why” then look to the regions

Here’s my #2018Midterms HOUSE watch thread:  Other forecasters focus on the numbers, but I’m more interested in themes.  First thing is you can now ignore the national generic ballot and Trump rating – both have been stable for 4 weeks. As we learned in 2016, the national polls did not tell the story of that election. It was a set of regional stories that determined the outcome, e.g. breach of the industrial Midwest’s “blue wall,” Clinton’s ill-conceived attempt to expand the map into the Southwest, etc.

[Find more details from the Monmouth University Poll’s 2018 House polling .]

The 2018 House will be a regional one as well. While all the issues I am about to mention play out nationally, their impact is more of a factor in different regions.  Let’s start in order of poll closings.  We might see some early disappointment for Dems and hope for Republicans in places like #KY06 and #WV03. But these may be more of a sign that “red gravity” in the inland SOUTH is just too heavy for Democrats to reach escape velocity.  If Dems pick up one of those, they are probably in for a good night, but we will need a little more data to see if they weren’t idiosyncratic victories.

The next region to focus on is the EAST COAST – this is where Dems look likely to pick up their largest number of House seats.  This is where white suburban college educated women are the single biggest voting bloc. Those that have voted Republican in the past are not happy with Pres. Trump and not happy with their party leaderships’ unwillingness or inability to provide a check on that. In other words, they feel their party has left them. Combine that with high levels of enthusiasm among Democrats and you have the makings of a blue wave.  The question is whether this wave could materialize here but dissipate as it tries to cross the Appalachians.

Virginia could provide the answer as it contains a number of competitive districts that could indicate how far a wave could travel if it materializes. First, if Republicans can hold onto #VA10, there is no blue wave – in fact, not even a turquoise ripple.  But Dems winning that one seat does not necessarily get them to 218 in the House. #VA07 will be a key.  If Dems pick up this seat, then they are almost certainly on the path to a majority.  If Dems can also swing one or both of #VA02 and #VA05 then they are on the path to a very big night as we head west.

Next up is the MIDWEST.  If the Northeast is largely a story of “Romney-Clinton” districts, the Midwest is where we are looking at “Obama-Trump” districts. But it might be more accurate – and easier to understand the dynamics there if we refer to them as “Change-Change” districts instead.

This region is more populated (relative to other regions) with voters who feel government is deaf to their concerns and that politicians are more interesting in protecting the interests of the “establishment.”  Many of them still like Trump simply because he continues to destabilize the establishment. But they don’t necessarily feel that way about the Republicans running for Congress. Combine that factor with enthusiasm among suburban Dems who regret staying at home in 2016, and you have a recipe for another big haul for Democrats.  On the other hand, the president’s recent appeals to his supporters to think of this election as him being on the ballot might be just enough for Republicans to hold on to many of these seats (although it’s not looking that way right now).

Then we move to CALIFORNIA and the SOUTHWEST. These are some of the most – and rapidly growing so – culturally diverse districts in the country.  This may sound like good news for Democrats, but there are two problems. First, Hispanic and Asian voters are the least likely to show up to vote, especially in midterms. Second, Latino men are not monolithically Democratic – in fact they may be one of the biggest swing groups in the country.  Democrats need to turn out a big number of first-time midterm voters. This group is a key ingredient for them in the East and Midwest, but early vote returns suggest they may be still lagging in places like southern CA and TX.

Republicans, on the other hand, need to hold on to a significant number of Latino men, as polls suggest they are doing now in the Southwest.  One issue central to this is immigration, where many Latinos side with GOP policy.  This is one region where immigration competes with health care as the top issue that voters say they are looking at when they consider their House vote. Republicans have a built-in advantage if they can get voters to prioritize concerns about immigration in their choice for House.

[Side note: if determining control of Congress comes down to Southern California, we probably won’t know the results for another month because apparently each county clerk there is provided with a single abacus on which to tally the votes.]

The bottom line is that we could see a blue wave in one or two areas but not in others. If you want to understand the “why” and not just the “how many” of party shift in the House, pay attention to the regional differences.

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