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Mellman: Another Measure of Stability

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

[Democratic Pollster Mark Mellman posted a comment here on Friday in response to the final installment of my three part series on the national data on the race to control Congress. It was structured around a metaphor Mellman has used to characterize the Democrats chances on November 7:

There's a big anti-Republican wave out there. But that wave will crash up against a very stable political structure, so we won't be sure of the exact scope of Democratic gains until election night. We really don't yet know which is ultimately more important -- the size of the wave or the stability of the structure.

Since not all readers browse the comments, I am promoting Mellman's remarks as a contribution to our Guest Pollster Corner section].

When I talk about stability I have a couple of other factors in mind in addition to incumbency advantages. As I noted in my original Hill article last March....

One measure of political instability: the number of Republicans holding seats that vote Democratic for president and vice versa. When big political waves hit, that is precisely where much of the action is. In the two prior presidential elections, Bush (the father) or Reagan had won 30 of the 34 seats Democratic incumbents lost in 1994. Similarly, two-thirds of the Republican incumbents who lost in 1882 were running in districts presidential Democrats had won just previously.

Today, though, there are fewer mismatched seats than at any point in recent history. Going into 1994, 53 Democrats held seats won by Bush in 1992. Today just 18 Republicans hold seats won by Kerry. So, while forces in the political environment push strongly in a Democratic direction, they are acting on a relatively stable structure: Hence the test.

 

Comments
oz:

On November 7, the look will be as follows:

US SENATE:

REP 50
DEM 48
IND 2

SO 50-50 Unless they transfer Shelby back, GOP will continue to control senate

HOUSE ( NEAREST NUMBER )

REPS 200+
DEMS 230 AROUND

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Mike Rappeport:

Mark's analysis assumes a stable electorate (i.e. that Bush would carry the same districts today that he did in 2004). If one assumes there has been even a relatively small shift in the basic alignment of the electorate (which certainly seems indicated in both the party preference and overall congressional figures), then the stability of the Republican seats should be proportional not just to the seats that Kerry carried but also to the number of close seats (e.g. Bush won by less than 5%). It would therefore be very interesting to know how many Republican seats are in districts Bush carried by 1%, by 2% etc.

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Tim:

The head to head congressional generic ballot will have an effect in districts where the incumbent Republican is consistently under 50% and over 35% on the negatives. The D's are consistently up on this poll question by 10 to 15 points.

In the end, gerrymandering, GOP negative ads, and GOP GOTV cuts that margin down to 5 to 7 points. But it will not be enough to save the under 50%/over 35% Republican candidates who are incumbents. The spread on the generic ballot is indicative of a 20-40 seat shift right now. But do not discount districts where the GOP leads outside of the margin of error, but neither candidate is over 50% but both are above 40%.

If these districts are indicating the strong sense of negativity toward the GOP or incumbent (as I think they are), the seat change could buck gerrymandering in some cases and take the shift to 35-55 seats.

The Senate count is +50 for the D's if McCaskill wins in MO. That will be tipped off by how well things are going in TN and VA for the Dems. If rural VA is reporting anything less than 60% for Allen, then he will not win. He is in one of those "below 50%/over 40% negative" seats that tumble with a landslide.

But Mark is correct - patterns are stable for an unstable year - at this time.

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