34 House Seats in Danger

Taegan Goddard points to a  CQ Politics piece  noting that 34 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives where “where voters split their ballots between Republicans for the House of Representatives and Democrat Barack Obama for the White House.”

CQ titles the piece “Nearly Three Dozen GOP House Winners Dodged Obama’s Coattails,” as if to signal that this is an extraordinary number of seats potentially up for grabs.   Another way of looking at it, though, is that 401 of the 435, or 92.2 percent, of the districts voted along party lines.  That’s an extraordinary number of seats where the party primary is synonymous with the election.

Making it worse, some of the mismatches are one-off flukes, such as the Louisiana 2nd where William “The Freezer” Jefferson was narrowly defeated in a multi-candidate race run under arcane rules and which are likely to return to form in the next election.

Not that this is a novel observation but we don’t exactly have a competitive election system.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I keep hearing of Democrat party internal polling that suggests Democrats will lose around 40 seats in the house in the midterms.

    Not competitive, perhaps.
    Reactive, may be another matter.

  2. Jim Durbin says:

    Quite a few of us are working towards making 435 seats in danger. That’s the ultimate goal the tea parties will get to.

    In Missouri, incumbents win at greater than 60% in the polls, while Semators and Presidents win only by thousands statewide. As long as that is the norm, corruption and lack of real change will be the name of the game.

  3. fester says:

    James, I think you are misreading the CQ report —those 34 endangered seats are just the Dem easy target list seat as those are the seats held by Republicans with a PVI ranging from R+4 (in seats where Obama won with 50%+1) (or so) to D+30 (Cao).

    CQ is classifying Delaware At-Large (Castle) as potentially endangered while as long as he runs, that is a GOP hold. This is a very simple first glance cut technique that will be better than random but it is not that good.

    The more interesting thing for your argument is the 34 Obama-GOP PLUS the 49 McCain-DEM seats as the swing seats — roughly 20% of Dems in the House come from ‘McCain’ seats while ~16% of Republicans come from ‘Obama’ seats, or about 18% of the districts did not vote party line.

  4. doug says:

    The article says 34 Obama districts went Republican and 49 McCain districts went Dem. So 83 are “competitive” by this definition, or 19.1% (interestingly, 34/178 GOP seats and 49/257 Dem seats also both equal 19.1%). In addition to cases like Cao, I would think many of those involve reasonably popular incumbents who were originally elected either by fluke or at a time when the district’s composition (either politically or geographically) was different. So they wouldn’t be competitive unless the incumbent retired, or some other significant event occurred (although this raises the question of the distinction between inherently uncompetitive seats and seats that are temporarily uncompetitive due to the power of incumbency). On the other hand, just because an Obama or McCain district voted for a Democratic or GOP rep respectively, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the primary was the decisive contest. My district, NJ-07, narrowly favored Obama (after supporting Bush twice) and a GOP rep (who ended up winning by 10 points in a race that was considered a tossup or slight lean Dem), but if McCain got a few more votes and edged out Obama, that wouldn’t have suddenly made it a safe Republican seat. None of this is meant to dispute the larger point, that too many seats aren’t competitive. However, I think that 1) there are more factors to consider than which presidential candidate won the district, and 2) the actual proportion of competitive seats is significantly greater than 8%.