Following up on the David Nir's diary of the presidential results by congressional district, I decided to look at what the prospects of Democrats regaining the majority in the House of Representatives. The link to David's post is below.
The way I went about it was first to look at what the new PVIs were for each of these districts. The PVIs online were still ones based on the 2004 and 2008 results that gave us the PVI for the 2012 races, but now thanks to David's work, we had the vast majority of presidential results by congressional district data (There are still some selected districts, mostly in the Northeast, that we have no presidential number yet). I plugged in those results and now computed the PVI with just the 2008 and 2012 results. Since the PVI is computed by comparing the presidential results in the congressional district vs. the results in the nation as whole, I didn't think that gave as detailed a comparison as I would have liked. I, therefore, computed a "statewide PVI" that compared the presidential results in the congressional district vs. the results in that state as a whole.
For example, if we look at a congressional district that voted for Romney 55-45, the standard PVI would be about R+7 (the difference between 52-47 Obama and 55-45 Romney). But if we then factor in the state that the congressional district is in, we can compare how Republican or Democratic that district is in that state. So, if we look at a 55-45 result in a Utah congressional district (by the way, no Utah congressional district was even close to a 55-45 split) where Romney won the state as a whole by 73%-25%, it is as friendly a Democratic district as you'll find, where as that same 55-45 result in a state like California where Obama carried it by 60-37, is a Republican vote sink.
This "statewide PVI" was determined by taking the standard PVI and subtracting the "lean" of the state. Again, if we take Utah as an example and start with the R+7, which equals -7 (7 points below the Obama/Romney nationwide result) and subtract the statewide "lean" of -26 (Utah was 26 points more in favor of Romney than the nation), we get -7-(-26). If we remember our math from school, subtracting a negative makes a positive so it becomes -7+26 which equals +19. Anything with a positive number is Democratic, negative number is Republican. So, our "statewide PVI" in this hypothetical case is D+19 as that district would be 19 points more Democratic than the state as whole.
Follow me below the "squiggles" for a look at what the 435 congressional districts look like with both PVI and statewide PVI and if it can tell us anything about the possible Republican held districts that can be retaken by Democrats.
I've uploaded to Google Docs the spreadsheet for all 435 districts. Below is the link.
Before I delve too deeply into the numbers, I wanted to explain what the PVI numbers tells us about the general percentage of Dem/Rep voters you should expect in each district (everything else being equal - no incumbents, same name recognition, etc.). Averaging the 2008 and 2012 national presidential results gives us a Dem. (Obama) percentage of 51.9 and a Rep. percentage of 46.4 which is a 5.5% difference in our (Dem.) favor. A R+3 PVI, where the Dem percentage goes down 3 points and Rep percentage goes up 3 points gets you to roughly a 49-49 split. All things being equal, an R+3 PVI would be a 50/50 district.
I should also explain a couple of the other columns in the spreadsheet. The Statewide Partisan Lean column is simply the PVI minus the average difference between the statewide presidential vote and the congressional district presidential vote. This essentially gives you how Republican or Democratic the state is compared to the national vote. Again, if we use the examples of Utah and California, the Statewide Partisan Lean for Utah in 2012 was 26 points more Republican and for California 10 points more Democratic. The Statewide PVI is then derived by taking the PVI and then subtracting the Statewide Partisan Lean. For instance, UT-04's 2012 Statewide PVI is the PVI of -20 (R+20) minus the Statewide Partisan Lean of -26, -20-(-26) or -20+26 which equals +6. That 2012 Statewide PVI, therefore, becomes D+6 for UT-04. In other words, UT-04 is 6 points more Democratic than the state as whole.
Redistricting - Dem. Presidential States vs. Rep. Presidential States
There are 24 states that averaged a statewide partisan lean of R+3 (49/49 split) or above. North Carolina was the only one at R+3 while Indiana and Missouri were next at R+5, Georgia at R+6 and Montana and Arizona at R+7. If we look at the partisan congressional makeup in just those states, North Carolina has a 9-4 Republican advantage, Indiana a 7-2 advantage, Missouri a 6-2 advantage, Georgia a 9-5 advantage and Arizona a 5-4 Democratic advantage. If you look at those congressional districts via the Statewide PVI, only one district had a Democratic Statewide PVI. In other words, these already slightly Republican states only had one Republican held district that was more Democratic than the rest of the state. In fact, that one district (MO-02) was only 1 point more Democratic than the Missouri as a whole. Furthermore, there were 2 Democratic districts (GA-12 and NC-07) that had an even more Republican tilt than those states as whole. Even more disconcerting than the partisan splits in these states is the fact that none of the Republican held districts were close to competitive. Besides MO-02 mentioned above that was 1 point more Democratic than its state, there was just one other district (IN-02) that had a small statewide PVI increase (R+1) above its already Republican state (R+5). Most Republican districts in these states had statewide PVIs 5 to 20 points above its state. Besides IN-02 and MO-02, any other Republican district from these states changing over to Democratic would be slim to none.
The Republican state legislature and governor victories and consequently their control of the redistricting process were especially devastating in a state like North Carolina. It was a 50/50 state on the presidential level in both 2008 and 2012 and if it properly reflected the evenness in it's congressional delegation, we'd be looking at a 7-6 split either way. Instead, we have and 9-4 split with actually 10 solidly Republican PVI districts. Even beyond slightly Republican states like North Carolina, the effects of Republican control of redistricting was particularly egregious in "rust belt" states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan who've averaged in the past two presidential elections Obama victories of 4, 8, and 13 points respectively have congressional delegations of 12-4, 13-5 and 9-5 Republican. With an Ohio delegation which on its presidential results alone should be at least an 8-8 or 9-7 Democratic majority instead has only 4 of 16 Democratic seats. The only competitive seats are OH-10 and 14 which have Statewide PVIs of R+2 and R+3 and instead have Democratic vote sinks of D+12, D+16, D+17 and D+31 in OH-13, 9, 3 and 11. Pennsylvania is even worse. Of the 13 Republican held districts only 4 are competitive, PA-06, 07, 08 and 15. Even if Dems won all of those, it will still be a 9-9 split in a state won by Obama twice by an average of 8 points. So, just think if just these 3 states more properly reflected the Democratic vote there, we would probably be just a few seats away from taking back the House.
A Path to a Democratic Majority?
Right now, Democrats need 18 more seats to flip in order to get the majority back and if you look at the last column in the spreadsheet with the updated PVI, there are only 4 districts with a D+1 or higher that are held by Republicans, and only 7 held by Democrats in R+3 or higher districts. On top of that, there are only 65 districts with a PVI of Even, D+1, R+1, R+2, R+3, R+4 or R+5, 52 of which are held by Republicans. This would encompass districts from 53/45 Dem - D+1 to 51/47 Rep - R+5. That's only about 15% that are remotely competitive.
Of those 52, which present the best possible Dem. chances? Well, CA-31 is the obvious choice. This is the district where the top two vote getters in the primary were both Republicans as the Democrats split the vote and none of them were able to finish in first or second in the primary. It has the largest Democratic PVI of any Republican held district at D+5. It does have a Statewide PVI of R+4 as it is 4 points more Republican than California as a whole which was D+9 so it is not an absolute slam dunk for Democrats. The next possible seat is also in California, CA-21. This too is a Democratic leaning district, yet it is 8 points more Republican than the rest of the state and might be a tougher haul than you'd think. CO-06 and NY-19 round out the list of Republican held districts with Democratic PVIs and again although NY-19 has a PVI of D+1, the statewide PVI is R+10 and with the added benefit of incumbency, this district has just as good a chance of staying in Republican hands. CO-06 is a definite possibility as the incumbent Mike Coffman was redistricted from a safe Republican seat to this one slightly in the Democrats favor. He won by only 2 percent this past November and the district includes the city of Aurora where Coffman's support of the NRA may hurt him after the shootings there and in Newtown, CT.
The next group of possible pickups are Republican held districts that on average had 51-52% Obama voters. They include IA-03, IL-13, NV-03, PA-08 and MI-06. Even though these are Even or R+1 PVI districts, they are all in states that Obama won with Illinois and Michigan being by large margins. So, if we then look at their Statewide PVI, we see that MI-06 and IL-13 are 5 and 8 points more Republican than their states respectively. Fred Upton in MI-06 is a longtime Congressman from this area and won the district last November by 12 points. Unless he doesn't run in 2014 or an aggressive challenger decides to run, I would be surprised to see this district switch. IL-13 on the other hand with a freshman Republican, Rodney Davis, who only won by .3% seems a much better prospect for flipping to the Democratic side. Of IA-03, NV-03 and PA-08, NV-03 seems the best bet for a flip as Joe Heck is a freshman as well, the district is only R+2 in Statewide PVI in a state that averaged an 7 point Obama victory between 2008 and 2012. He also just barely went over 50% in votes last November. IA-03 with Tom Latham defeated a fellow incumbent, Leonard Boswell, in 2012 by 8.5% in a district that should have slightly favored his opponent as most of the district was made up of Boswell's former district and less than 20% of Latham's district. It's still possible given the PVI, but it will need a well-known and funded Democrat to get this over to the Dem side. PA-08 seems perhaps an even longer shot as the incumbent, Michael Fitzpatrick, was redistricted into a slightly more Republican district than before and he won by over 13 points in November against a pretty good Democratic opponent.
Past these 9 districts mentioned above, there are only 16 others that saw more Obama than McCain or Romney voters in its district some of which have long been on the DCCC's radar for several cycles now like David Reichert and Jim Gerlach in WA-08 and PA-06 respectively. There is also WI-07 and WI-08 which voted for Obama in 2008, but switched to favoring Romney this last time. Redistricting certainly favored Sean Duffy in WI-07 as he was seen as most vulnerable prior to the remapping, but both have a statewide PVI of R+4 which definitely favors the two incumbent Republicans. The statewide PVI is especially instructive with these 16 districts as more than half of them are R+4 or more with NY-11 at R+13. The best districts in statewide PVI are both in Florida, FL-27 and FL-13. The most interesting may be FL-27 with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as it is the only one that went from a Republican statewide PVI in 2008 to a Democratic one in 2012 (R+3 to D+2). This can most certainly be attributed to the younger Cuban vote not being so solidly Republican. So, while she won her district by nearly 25 points with over 60% of the vote, the long term prospects do not bode well for her. FL-13, however, will probably not be competitive until Bill Young retires. He has served in Congress since 1970 and even with a 50/50 district managed to win by 15 points in the last election.
Besides the two Florida districts, which are more long term than short term gets, and the nine others that are fairly Republican compared to their state, we are left with MN-03, VA-02, VA-10 and PA-15. VA-10, represented by Frank Wolf since the 1980 election, has always looked like a swing district in the Northern Virginia suburbs/exurbs, yet it continues to elect him. He won this district by over 15 points in which Romney eked out a 50/49 win. VA-02, on the other hand, is winnable as Scott Rigell won this seat originally in the wave election of 2010. It has given Obama more than 50% of the vote in both 2008 and 2012 even though its PVI is R+2. MN-03 and PA-15, however, are districts which Obama won with 51-52% of the vote in 2008, but failed to break 50% in 2012. On top of that, it gave their Republican incumbents double digit victories in November.
We also know that there are some Democratic held districts in solidly Republican areas that are always being contested by Republicans with the hope of flipping them, Jim Matheson in UT-04, Nick Rahall in WV-03, Mike McIntyre in NC-07, John Barrow in GA-12 and Collin Peterson in MN-07 being the ones that just seem to keep getting away from the Republicans. One of these elections, they will be lost, but are there any other possible Republican districts with strong Republican PVI that could be switched? Actually, there are a few different possibilities. Looking at the 2012 congressional race results and seeing if any Republicans underperformed Romney's vote totals and cross checking against its statewide PVI yields a few races that could be within reach.
Andy Barr in KY-06 won by less than 4 points in a district that Romney won by nearly 14 and its statewide PVI is D+4. Lee Terry in NE-02 won his by just under 2.5% in a statewide PVI district of D+8. Jim Renacci in OH-16 elected in 2010 has never past 52% even with a district that voted over 53% for Romney.
What does the rest of the decade bring?
So where does that leave us not only in 2014, but also through to 2020? Unfortunately, for Democrats, redistricting and the polarization of the electorate will probably limit the number of pickups Dems can get even in a good Democratic year. Looking into future, of course, is a risky prospect as it's hard to know if a wave year comes up like 2006 and 2010, but with the polarization caused by the Republicans, it is not out of the range of possibility. The good news for Democrats, however, is that they have two long term advantages on their side. One is simple demographics as the country gets less and less white, the Republican base of older whites continues to shrink. The second is the gift that keeps giving, the tea party crazies primarying out incumbent Republicans that aren't sufficiently crazy enough for them.