Democrats may have chance to flip House seats

G. Elliott Morris

After Democrat Jon Ossoff came close to an outright victory in last week’s special election in Georgia’s sixth Congressional District, hype for a 2018 blue wave slightly dipped. Ossoff’s failure to reach 50 percent of the votes in his district came after Democrats performed nearly 20 percent better than they had in Kansas’ fourth district in 2016. There has also been talk (which I think is overconfident, but in the realm of possibility) of Beto O’Rourke defeating Ted Cruz in Texas’ 2018 Senate race.

That prompts the question: Can we expect a blue wave to come to Texas? I think we can learn a lot from possible Texas congressional district outcomes in 2018.

One of the best predictors of what will happen in the 2018 midterm is, of course, what happened in the 2014 midterm election. At the macro level, Republicans gained 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Texas, legislators beat their “benchmarks” by an average of 8 percent. These benchmarks are a statistic developed by Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight that blend the proportion of the vote each congressional district gave to presidential candidates in the past two elections.
On its face, that’s hard to untangle. Why would Republicans improve on their performance in 2012? A better question might be: why wouldn’t they?

In 2014, Democrats had recently come off of a (fairly) close presidential election, barely averted a full-scale government shutdown, and were enduring backlash from the passage of the Affordable Care Act. All of this culminated in a negative 11 percent net approval rating for Obama.

There are clear parallels here, at least in the data. By the 2018 midterm, barring an unforeseen event, Donald Trump will likely have a net approval rating less than where his is right now — at about negative 11 percent. Thus, using the logic that parties lose support when they are in power, we can expect the Republicans to underperform their benchmarks at similar rates.

In particular, GOP Texas legislators would likely see lacking electoral performance similar to the 8 percent of 2014. We can combine that expected loss with the current trends of the district — the difference between GOP margins in 2016 with their margins in 2012 — to get a basic estimate of what may happen in 2018. Doing so among the districts where Democratic candidates have gained ground since 2012 produces an optimistic outlook for Democrats.

This analysis predicts eight seats will flip in 2018. They are Ted Poe of TX-02, John Culberson of TX-07, Michael McCaul of TX-10, Lamar Smith of TX-21, Pete Olson of TX-22, Kenny Marchant of TX-24 and Pete Sessions of TX-32.
However, that is a very optimistic estimate for Democrats.

Reducing the bonus Democrats would get in their districts to half of their improvement from 2012 to 2016 leaves only Culberson, Olson, Hurd, Marchant and Sessions in flipped districts. Given that year-to-year shifts aren’t 100 percent predictive of next year’s shift, this five-seat shift is closer to what we expect next year.

It’s possible still that Trump could gain support and end up with a positive favorability rating, which would completely discredit this theory. However, based on the massive mobilization of anti-Trump forces (such as the Women’s March and March for Science) and the long-standing trend of congressional elections decreasing the incumbent party’s seats in Congress, Republican candidates should err on the side of caution next year.

Morris is a government, history and computer science junior from Port Aransas. Follow him on Twitter @gelliottmorris.