The Democratic House majority is in a strong position as we enter the election year in just a few short weeks. Democrats have three distinct advantages going into 2020—one of which is surprising and unexpected.
Advantage 1: Incumbent Strength
A majority of the seemingly vulnerable Democratic freshmen show above average job approval and favorability, ample funding, and are clearly leading their respective contests. Right now, less than a dozen new members hold vulnerable seats—far fewer than we would normally expect. In the South, SC-01 and OK-06 are the biggest challenges. While GA-06, TX-07, VA-07, and perhaps VA-02 are headed for tight races. But in all of these challenging districts, support for the Democratic candidates is uncharacteristically strong. At this time, the only open seat of real concern is IA-02.
Advantage 2: The Battlefield
There are a surprising number of Republican seats in serious jeopardy. Republicans are facing near certain defeats in NC-02 and NC-06. The collapse of Republican support in the suburbs is best indicated by the rising Democratic support in GA-07, IL-13, NY-02, TX-22, TX-23 and TX-24. This trend shows no evidence of abating and would likely take more than one cycle to negate. The possibility of additional Republican retirements would further bolster Democratic prospects. In the next few months we may see another retirement in MI-06.
Advantage 3: The Changing Electoral Landscape
This is the factor that inspired this memo. In 2018, the majority of Democratic pick-ups were high-education, suburban districts that were once reliably Republican.
Democrats gained 40 seats in 2018 even though Republicans—buoyed by gerrymandering—maintained a distinct advantage in core partisanship. At the time, the NCEC’s Democratic Performance Index (DPI) showed a Republican advantage in more than 230 districts (218 are required for the majority).
A recent update of our DPI for 2020 reveals a total of 222 congressional districts at 50 percent or higher, as opposed to 213 at 49.9 percent or lower. Not once in the past decade has the outlook for House Democrats looked so promising.
DPI in a Majority of Districts Now Favors Democrats
|Democratic Performance||Total||Change from 2018|
|55.0% and Higher||170||+15|
|52.5% to 54.9%||30||+1|
|50.0% to 52.4%||22||+8|
|47.5% to 49.9%||28||+4|
|45.0% to 47.4%||26||-6|
|44.9% and Less||159||-22|
|Total||222 D – 213 R||D+24|
This dramatic change is driven by:
- rising Democratic support in suburban and exurban districts,
- redistricting success in Pennsylvania and North Carolina,
- and rapidly increasing diversity in heretofore solidly Republican suburban districts.
The suburbs of Southern California, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Austin rank as the best examples of this dramatic change.
This is not to imply that Republicans cannot be competitive in the post-Trump era. Rather, it signifies the importance of legislative elections in 2020 and their impact on redistricting before the 2022 election.
But for now, there is no inherent Republican advantage in the 2020 election. Gerrymandering alone is no longer enough.