Why Republicans Will Keep House in 2012

Republican pollster Glen Bolger makes a bold promise: The GOP will retain House control in 2012 - Guaranteed.

He won’t be confused with Joe Namath but Glen Bolger makes a bold promise:  The GOP will retain House control in 2012 – Guaranteed.

The prominent Republican pollster (and family friend and partner in my wife’s firm, see DISCLOSURES) argues that, even if President Obama wins re-election, he won’t have the coattails to bring his party with him.

The first factor is that even strong Presidents who win re-election do not have long coattails. Look at the last three re-elected Presidents — Reagan ’84, Clinton ’96, and Bush ’04. Two were blowouts and one was close. In 1984, the GOP won 16 House seats. In 1996, the Dems picked up nine House seats. In the two blowout re-elections, the President’s party picked up an average of just 12.5 seats. In the close election of 2004, Republicans won three seats. Across the three elections, the average pick-up for the President is 9.3 seats. Obama is not likely to win a blowout re-election. Given Obama’s problems with white working class voters and the unifying effect he has on the GOP base, he is much more likely headed for either a close win or a loss rather than a big win.

Glen provides charts breaking down the numbers, which are persuasive.  While past performance is no guarantee of future results, it’s by far the best indicator we have.  Still, 2012 could be an anomaly, especially if Obama gets the right opponent.    That’s why this is more important:

The other factor putting a stake through the vampire hearts of the Democrats’ hopes of control post-2012 is the overwhelming shift in redistricting fortunes. Because of GOP gains in Gov races and the legislatures, there will be a dramatic change in the structure of the 2012 House races. In the 2001 redistricting process, Democrats drew the lines of 135 seats, while GOPers drew the lines for 98 — a 37 seat advantage for the Dems. Now, Republicans control drawing 193 seats outright, while the Dems have just 44. That’s a 149 seat advantage for the GOP (the rest of the seats are either in split control states, commission drawn states, At-Large seats, or currently undecided). That represents a 186 seat shift in favor of the GOP from 2001 — and was a year that Republicans won three out of five congressional majorities since.

That does NOT mean Republicans can draw 193 seats they win — but it does mean they can squeeze out additional seats in states they completely control, while making life much more difficult for Democrats.

House races are notoriously uncompetitive.  Even is last month’s Republican landslide, 88 percent of incumbents managed to win re-election.  And the fact that the GOP is now going to get to redraw the lines to make it even harder for Democrats to make gains will create a ridiculous structural advantage.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Public Opinion Polls, Quick Takes, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    Well, OK, but let’s see how the 112th Congress conducts itself before we sign the Dem’s death warrant.

  2. Tano says:

    Unless, by some odd cosmic event, the future differs somewhat from the past.