Predicting and dissecting the seats-votes curve in the 2006 U.S. House election

Kastellec, Jonathan P.; Gelman, Andrew E.; Chandler, Jamie P.

The 2008 U.S. House elections mark the first time since 1994 that the Democrats will seek to retain a majority. With the political climate favoring Democrats this year, it seems almost certain that the party will retain control, and will likely increase its share of seats. In five national polls taken in June of this year, Democrats enjoyed on average a 13-point advantage in the generic congressional ballot; as Bafumi, Erikson, and Wlezien (2007) point out, these early polls, suitably adjusted, are good predictors of the November vote. As of late July, bettors at put the probability of the Democrats retaining a majority at about 95% ( 2008). Elsewhere in this symposium, Klarner (2008) predicts an 11-seat gain for the Democrats, while Lockerbie (2008) forecasts a 25-seat pickup. In this paper we document how the electoral playing field has shifted from a Republican advantage between 1996 and 2004 to a Democratic tilt today. In an earlier article (Kastellec, Gelman, and Chandler 2008), we predicted the seats-votes curve in the 2006 election, showing how the Democrats faced an uphill battle in their effort to take control of the House and, their victory notwithstanding, ended up winning a lower percentage of seats than their average district vote nationwide. We follow up on this analysis by using the same method to predict the seats-votes curve in 2008. Due to the shift in incumbency advantage from the Republicans to the Democrats, compounded by a greater number of retirements among Republican members, we show that the Democrats now enjoy a partisan bias, and can expect to win more seats than votes for the first time since 1992. While this bias is not as large as the advantage the Republicans held in 2006, it will likely help the Democrats increase their share of seats.


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PS: Political Science & Politics

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March 15, 2010