Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 House Outlook

As Election Day nears, we see no reason to veer from the view that we have held for months – that the 2008 House elections will give Democrats another big victory. Some Democratic challengers and open seat hopefuls already are over 50% in polling, but many are still in the mid-to-upper 40s. We believe that many of these candidates will win as late deciders generally break against incumbents (and most incumbents in trouble are Republicans) and, except in reliably Republican districts, against the GOP.

We also are skeptical that Republican candidates – again, especially Republican incumbents – who are in the low and even mid-40s in late polling, will win. Nervousness by Democratic strategists about the party’s challengers who have small but consistent leads over GOP incumbents or in swing districts is understandable but unfounded, in our view. Most of these contests are likely to break toward Democrats, rapidly increasing the party’s net gains well into the 20s and quite possibly well into the 30s.

As we previously mentioned, the Democratic wave is so large that it is likely to carry some second- and third-tier Democratic nominees to victories in normally reliable Republican seats. Republican and conservative seats in Idaho, Colorado, New York, New Mexico and even Minnesota are likely to fall, but if more of those kinds of seats fall than we now expect, Democratic gains could exceed our current estimate. We continue to expect a major surprise or two (at the very least) in the House results.

Democrats are likely to lose at least a couple of incumbents, but their total losses could get up into the 3-7 range if Republicans have a good night and Republican voters turn against Democratic incumbents in a surprisingly large number of races.

Waves are inherently unpredictable, but we continue to expect Democratic gains to range from the mid-20s to the high 30s, with the most likely outcome to fall in the 27-33 seat range. Based on the large number of vulnerable GOP seats, any Democratic gain of fewer than 25 seats would constitute a good night for Republicans and suggest that late-breaking voters slid toward the GOP. Anything approaching a 40 seat gain would be a stunningly strong night for Democrats and demonstrate that the party’s wave continued to build from 2006 through Election Day and that turnout boosted Democratic net gains. Click here for our final House ratings.