The House for Swingers

Note: I posted some additional data breakdowns in a comment (7 Nov.)

With the US congressional midterm elections almost upon us, I wanted to put the playing field of 2006 into the context of 1994, the last time the party in control of the House of Representatives swung.

In 1994, fifty six seats held by Democrats swung to the Republican party (four seats swung the other direction). Here is how those seats broke down by Democratic vote in the previous election, 1992. In the following paired lines the first line is a range of votes percentages (of the 2-party vote) for the Democratic candidate in 1992, while the second line is the number of such districts, followed by the number of those districts that swung (and the percentage that these swingers represented out of that group).

    50-51.99
    21 11 (52.4)

    52-54.99
    26 11 (42.3)

    55-59.99
    44 18 (40.9)

    60-64.99
    40 10 (25.0)

    65-69.99
    45 4 (8.9)

    70-79.9
    46 2 (4.4)

Interpreting these numbers, we can say that more than half the districts that the Democratic party had won with less than 52% of the two-party vote in 1992 were seats that swung. (That is somewhat surprisingly low; nearly half of the seats that were won so narrowly in 1992 did not swing, even in a year with a huge national votes swing against their party.) Not surprisingly, as the 1992 margin grows, the share of seats that swung declines. Nonetheless, the Republicans even picked up six seats in which the Democratic incumbent won more than 65% of the vote in 1992 (five of these six were open seats; the incumbent was retiring).

So, what if we compare the 2006 playing field; that is, let’s look at how many seats fit into each of these categories based on their 2004 Republican vote. Again, we have two lines, with the grouping by percentages of the Republican candidate’s vote in the first line and the number of districts in that group on the second line. In addition, I have replicated, in parentheses, the number of districts in this category going into 1994 (for the party then in control, the D’s).

    50-51.99
    6 (21)

    52-54.99
    10 (26)

    55-59.99
    19 (44)

    60-64.99
    38 (40)

    65-69.99
    49 (45)

    70-70.99
    60 (46)

Notice how many fewer close races there were in 2004 compared to 1992. If the Democrats were to have exactly the same “harvest rate” in each group of seats (i.e. 52.4% of the seats the Republican won with under 52%, 42.3% of those won with 52% to 55%, etc.), they would gain about 32 seats. And that is right within the range of current projections–actually, a bit below.

Finally, let’s look at the seats Rothenberg rated late last week as most likely to swing. I have simply taken his categories of seats that are toss-ups or “tilt” or “lean” one way or the other and indicated the vote from 2004. (In this case, the votes indicated are the Democratic sharae of the two-party vote; in some cases, my data are missing.)

    PURE TOSS-UP (20 R, 0 D)
    Dem % vote, 2004
    * CA 11 (Pombo, R) 39.7
    * CT 2 (Simmons, R) —
    * CT 4 (Shays, R) 47.6
    * FL 16 (Open; Foley, R) 32
    * FL 22 (Shaw, R) 36
    * IL 6 (Open; Hyde, R) 44.2
    * KS 2 (Ryun, R) 42.4
    * MN 1 (Gutknecht, R) 37.3
    * MN 6 (Open; Kennedy, R) 46.0
    * NM 1 (Wilson, R) 45.6
    * NY 20 (Sweeney, R) 33.9
    * NY 26 (Reynolds, R) 44.4
    * OH 1 (Chabot, R) 40.1
    * OH 2 (Schmidt, R) 28.3
    * PA 4 (Hart, R) 36.3
    * PA 6 (Gerlach, R) 49
    * PA 8 (Fitzpatrick, R) 43.9
    * TX 22 (Open; DeLay, R) 42.7
    * VA 2 (Drake, R) 44.9
    * WI 8 (Open; Green, R) 29.8

    TOSS-UP/TILT REPUBLICAN (10 R, 0 D)

    * AZ 1 (Renzi, R) 38.2 (48.2 in 2002)
    * CA 4 (Doolittle, R) 34.6
    * CO 4 (Musgrave, R) 46.7
    * ID 1 (Open; Otter, R) 30.5
    * KY 3 (Northup, R) 38.5
    * KY 4 (Davis, R) 44.7
    * NV 3 (Porter, R) 42.6
    * NY 25 (Walsh, R) —
    * NY 29 (Kuhl, R) 44.6
    * WA 8 (Reichert, R) 47.6

    TOSS-UP/TILT DEMOCRATIC (7 R, 3 D)

    * AZ 5 (Hayworth, R) 39.1
    * CT 5 (Johnson, R) 39.0
    * FL 13 (Open; Harris, R) 44.7
    * GA 8 (Marshall, D) 24.4
    * GA 12 (Barrow, D) —
    * IL 8 (Bean, D) —
    * IN 9 (Sodrel, R) 49.7
    * NH 2 (Bass, R) 39.6
    * NY 24 (Open; Boehlert, R) 37.3
    * NC 11 (Taylor, R) 45.1

    LEAN REPUBLICAN (3 R, 0 D)

    * NJ 7 (Ferguson, R) 42.3
    * OH 12 (Tiberi, R) 38
    * TX 23 (Bonilla, R) 29.8

    LEAN DEMOCRATIC (6 R, 1 D)

    * IA 1 (Open; Nussle, R) 44
    * IA 3 (Boswell, D) —
    * IN 2 (Chocola, R) 45.1
    * OH 15 (Pryce, R) 40
    * OH 18 (Open; Ney, R) 33.8
    * PA 7 (Weldon, R) 40.7
    * PA 10 (Sherwood, R) —

That’s a lot of seats in play that were not all that close in 2004, which is good news for Democrats, given how few really close races there were in 2004. By my count, there are eight seats in Rothenberg’s toss-ups in which the Democratic party won under 40% of the vote in 2004. There are five such seats among the tilt-D, and one among the lean-D seats. That’s nineteen of the 147 seats the incumbent of the party currently controlling the House won with from 60% to 80% of the two-party vote in 2004. Seats in that category heading into 1994 swung at a rate of only about 12%. If 12% of the current 147 such seats swung this time, that would be seventeen (of the nineteen such seats Rothenberg identifies as toss-up or lean). In other words, while it may seem unlikely that so many seats that looked “safe” after 2004 could really be in jeopardy, the lesson of 1994 is that when there is a strong tide of change, lots of seemingly “safe” seats do indeed fall. It is not only the obvous “marginals” that fall. (Remember, barely half of the seats won by the Democrat in 1992 with under 52% of the vote swung in 1994.)

We will know soon how many of these seats really do swing.

0 thoughts on “The House for Swingers

  1. Do these statistics include seats where the incumbent is not running? I wouldn’t be surprised if those amounted to a significant fraction of the “safe” seats which swung.

  2. As for the breakdown in 1994 of open seats vs. those where an incumbent was running, the following is a Stata ouptut that gets at this question.

    In the tables that follow (and apologies that the columns do not always match up in this format), the rows indicate who was running:

    0 = Rep incumbent running
    1 = Dem incumbent running
    2 = Open, held by Democrat
    3 = Open, held by Republican
    9 = held by independent

    The columns indicate what party won the seat in 1994:

    0 = Republican
    1 = Democrat
    9 = independent

    The first table is for all 435 seats. I then break the districts down according to the same categories of previous Democratic vote (“dvp”) that I used in the main post. (The html editor ate up some of the Stata code, so I just put the vote categories in parentheses on each line.)

    It is pretty clear that, as the Democrat’s vote percentage from 1992 rises, the rate of Republican takeovers (pwin=0) in 1994 is generally greater in open seats (inc=2) than in seats where the Democratic incumbent is running for reelection (inc=1). That is, of course, as we would expect, as Vasi noted in his comment above.

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 9 | Total
    ———–+———————————+———-
    0 | 157 0 0 | 157
    1 | 34 191 0 | 225
    2 | 22 9 0 | 31
    3 | 17 4 0 | 21
    9 | 0 0 1 | 1
    ———–+———————————+———-
    Total | 230 204 1 | 435

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994 (DVP between 50 and 51.99)

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 | Total
    ———–+———————-+———-
    1 | 8 8 | 16
    2 | 3 1 | 4
    ———–+———————-+———-
    Total | 11 9 | 20

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994 (DVP between 52 and 54.99)

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 | Total
    ———–+———————-+———-
    1 | 7 13 | 20
    2 | 4 2 | 6
    ———–+———————-+———-
    Total | 11 15 | 26

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994 (DVP between 55 and 59.99)

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 | Total
    ———–+———————-+———-
    1 | 11 25 | 36
    2 | 7 1 | 8
    ———–+———————-+———-
    Total | 18 26 | 44

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994 (DVP between 60 and 64.99)

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 | Total
    ———–+———————-+———-
    0 | 1 0 | 1
    1 | 7 28 | 35
    2 | 3 1 | 4
    ———–+———————-+———-
    Total | 11 29 | 40

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994 (DVP between 65 and 69.99)

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 | Total
    ———–+———————-+———-
    0 | 1 0 | 1
    1 | 1 38 | 39
    2 | 3 2 | 5
    ———–+———————-+———-
    Total | 5 40 | 45

    . tab inc pwin if year==1994 (DVP between 70 and 79.99)

    | pwin
    inc | 0 1 | Total
    ———–+———————-+———-
    1 | 0 42 | 42
    2 | 2 2 | 4
    ———–+———————-+———-
    Total | 2 44 | 46

    .

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