I agree with E.J. Dionne that winning control of the House of Representatives is very important to Obama's ability to govern in a second term. While I fear that President Obama's lead in the polls now may be exaggerated, I am working on a diary to explain why, if Obama does win a solid victory as indicated by the present polls, there is a good chance that the the Democrats will also win the House.
Comparing the number of House seats gained when a President is re-elected demonstrates how difficult this is going to be. In the recent past, even Presidents who have won re-election by margins larger then what Obama is likely to receive did not have coattails long enough to bring in the 25 seats the Democrats need to regain control of the House. For example, in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected by about 8.5 points, the Democrats only gained two seats. Even the Reagan and Nixon results only lead to the pick up of 16 and 12 seats respectively. So, what basis is there for saying that if Obama wins the type of victory that the polls now indicate, the Democrats have a good chance of winning a majority of seats in the House of Representatives? Follow me beyond the orange cloud to find out.
The main reason I like the Democrats' chances of winning a majority in the House is a very interesting poll result by Gallup shows that the number of voters who want one party to control the government is at an all time high. Currently, 38% of all voters want this, versus 23 percent who want a divided government. The number of voters who want one party rule seems to be rising rapidly. Since, according to the Washington Post almost 60% of the public believe Obama is going to win (I have seen higher numbers too), versus 34% who think Romney will win, this bodes very well for a Democratic House majority.
This polling result suggests that President Obama and the Democratic Party should emphasize the advantages of the same party controlling Congress and the Presidency for the remainder of the campaign. My guess is that Democrats have not done this very much outside of the Convention because blaming the Republicans for obstructionism must not poll well. Yet, there must be some way to encourage the growing tendency among voters to want a unified government.
I think there is one additional, more subjective, factor that also points to the Democrats taking control of the House: the progressive-populist theme of the Obama campaign. Since last September, the Obama campaign has established a narrative of a party and ideology that favors the middle class and up from the bottom economic growth versus a party and ideology that favors the wealthy and top down economic growth. Obviously, having Romney as the opposing candidate greatly facilitates this message. The fact that Obama has framed the election around a difference in mind-set and policies, assists a victory for all who share his frame. This, by the way, differs from the campaigns of Reagan and Clinton. While Reagan did criticize Mondale over taxes, the main thrust of his campaign was a generic, non-ideological "Morning in America" these. And while Clinton did attack the Republicans over Medicare cuts, he had spent the two years before the election triangulating away from the Democratic Party. I believe the type of campaigns run by Reagan and Clinton, as well as a greater preference at the time for a divided government, explain why neither Reagan nor Clinton elected a large number of new members of their party when they were re-elected.
While this second factor is subjective, there is some objective support in polling. As has been discussed often on this site, there has been a rise in polling results for several Senate candidates that correspond to Obama's post-convention rise. I believe this correlation is due to the nature of the campaign Obama is running, as well as the public's growing desire for unified government.
All this analysis is predicated on Obama winning the solid victory that the polls now indicate. If the President's margin of victory is reduced to a Bush like 2% or lower, then I dont think the Democrats regain control of the House. However, if Obama wins by the 5-6% that the polls now show, then I think there is an excellent opportunity for the Democrats to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, particularly if Obama and the Democratic Party act to drive up the number of voters who want a one party government.