Teaching the 2016 Election: A Well-Insulated House of Representatives

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

In contrast to the U.S. Senate, control of the House of Representatives is unlikely to change hands in November. Thanks to a highly successful 2014 midterm election, Republicans hold a decisive 247-186 majority with two vacant seats formerly held by Democrats.

The GOP has benefited from low turnout non-presidential election cycles and their more conservative-learning electorate. This proved especially true in 2010 when Republican gains at the state level allowed legislatures to redraw congressional districts favorable to their own party in a majority of states. By “packing” and “cracking” city-dwelling Democratic voters into solid blue or Republican-leaning districts, respectively, the GOP insulated its House majority during higher-turnout presidential years like 2012.

Four years ago, Democratic House candidates won 1.4 million more votes than their Republican counterparts, yet it was the latter that preserved its majority with minimal losses. Due in part to Donald Trump’s struggles atop of the Republican ticket, paired with dismal congressional approval ratings, registered voters currently favor Democratic congressional candidates by a five-point margin.

On the surface, this decisive lead would seemingly jeopardize continued Republican rule, but according to the Cook Political Report, Republicans enter the fall with an estimated 202 safe seats compared to 177 for Democrats. This leaves the GOP only 16 seats short of the necessary 218 majority. Thirteen other seats are projected as likely Republican, and eleven more lean Republican. If you’re counting with me, this adds up to 226 and doesn’t even include any of the nineteen toss-up races.

Democrats thus need to hold their 177 safe seats, win the thirteen seats projected as likely or lean Democrat, take the nineteen toss-ups, and still win at least nine of the eleven seats that lean Republican. An uphill climb for certain.

Of Illinois’ eighteen congressional districts, only two are considered competitive. Congressman Mike Bost from Murphrysboro in Southern Illinois (12th Congressional District) is deemed likely to hold his seat, while Representive Bob Dold from Chicago’s north suburbs is fighting for his political life in a rematch with his three-time opponent Brad Schneider. The seat has bounced back-and-forth between the two candidates since 2010 and may do so again given the decisive Democratic lean of Illinois in presidential cycles.

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