In 2016, none of the old political rules seemed to apply. How did Donald Trump win the presidency, yet lose the popular vote by an astonishing 3 million, even polling 10 points less in popularity than his competitor, Hillary Clinton, and having more than half of the electorate believing he was unfit for office?
Forecasts have become much more guarded since November 2016. But, by history and current metrics, if political gravity can be considered a law of nature, the Republicans should fall and the Democrats rise in the midterm elections. The general rule has been that the presidential party loses seats in midterms. Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 and control of the House; Barack Obama lost 63 seats in 2010 and Nancy Pelosi lost the Speaker’s gavel as a result.
And, of course, this president and his party have some exceptionally weak numbers after their first year in control of Washington, D.C. The President’s approval lingers below 40 percent. It has, in fact, hit the low 30s in some late November, early December polls.
The generic ballot test, which is judged a harbinger for a major shift in seats, has ranged from 8 to 11 points favoring the Democrats for months, a historic high. The Democrats need a net 24 seats to give Pelosi back the gavel. Finally, the seat-by-seat analysis from several analysts, such and Cook and Sabato, indicate Democrats have recruited a quality class of challengers and will fund them well – a Pelosi strength.
But this is the age of Trump and the old rules must be always tested and re-tested. While it seems unlikely, Trump and some of the policies, most of which do not have majority support of the public, could gain in popularity over the next 11 months. And, the economy continues to roll along.
In addition, Democrats must win a net of 24 seats. They have a few incumbents (12) in Trump territory that they must hold. At least three are open seats. Plus, they must win more new seats than just the 23 Republicans that are in districts Clinton carried — they are going to have to take a few seats from Republican incumbents in Trump territory. Possibly, the Alabama senate win demonstrates they can find candidates and a message to carry Republicans who have soured on either the President’s policies or his demeanor. And, of course, they won the Virginia and New Jersey governorships just as the Republicans did in the run-up to their successful 2010 midterm victory.
So if gravity holds, Democrats should have a good chance for their needed 24 seats, but it’s early and November 2016 challenged all the old rules.
Read Sabato’s Crystal Ball: House 2018: Less than a year out, race for control is a coin flip