Can Republicans Win The House ?

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee came out with a memo yesterday asserting that the House was not likely to land in Republican hands, but Nate Silver thinks it’s more likely than Democrats may want to admit:

There’s not really any there there. What does it mean for a seat to be “in play”, for instance? Suppose it means a seat which the Republican has some tangible chance of winning. If that’s the case, there are more than 70 or 80 seats “in play”. In fact, there are 101 Democrat-held seats that are rated as something other than safe by at least one of the “Big 4” forecasters (Cook, CQ, Rothenberg, Sabato). And if you include Real Clear Politics’ forecasts in the mix, the total rises to 108.

That’s a fairly liberal definition of “in play”, but at least it’s one with some concrete standard attached. By a slightly more conservative definition — a seat is “in play” if at least three of the five forcasters noted above think it is — the figure is 89 seats, still higher than the range that the DCCC memo suggests.

But I don’t know that we should be erring on the side of conservativism in defining the number of seats that are “in play”. Occasionally, in a wave election, a few seats that nobody was polling and nobody was paying attention to might wind up switching sides: one instance I recall is the IA-2 district in 2006, which was won by then-obscure political science professor Dave Loebsack, who edged out 15-term (!) Republican incumbent Jim Leach. (I was following the race intently because Leach, although a moderate Republican overall, was a leading proponent of the legislation to prohibit online poker, from which I was making a portion of my living at the time.)

The DCCC memo also argues that there’s like no freaking way that the Republicans can win more than about 60 percent of the seats that happen to be “in play”, however that’s defined:

To win 43 seats, the NRCC would need to put 70 to 80 seats in play.

I don’t really know what the basis for this claim is. Would it be impossible for the Republicans to win 43 seats, for instance, if there were 69 of them “in play” rather than 70? If you tossed a fair coin 69 times, there is only about a 3 percent chance that it would come up tails on at least 43 of those occasions. But elections to Congress aren’t like that; the outcomes aren’t independent of one another. If the pollsters aren’t quite capturing the full magnitude of anti-Democratic sentiment, for instance, that’s going to affect a lot of races, and a large fraction of the “toss-ups” could go to the Republicans.

The DNCC memo, of course,  is meant to serve a purpose other than providing an accurate forecast of November — they’re trying to make sure that the base doesn’t become so demoralized that they stay home and make a bad election even worse.

I’m still not certain that Republicans can take back the House, but it’s certainly possible for the reasons Silver points out.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Certainly possible but today’s environment is not October/November’s environment. I’m surprised Silver doesn’t recognize the potential difference but then he’s in the business of attracting traffic (nervous Democrats?) like everyone else.