Republican House Lock Is a Myth

A slight districting edge in the House may not last.
House Speaker John Boehner should know his majority can't last forever.

No, there is no Republican lock on the House of Representatives. They're going to keep the chamber this year, and any incumbent party always has an advantage. But after this year? Too early to know.

Chris Cillizza is correct that most House seats have solid partisan majorities. It's also probably true that party loyalty has increased among voters, making seats relatively less likely to swing once they are represented by the "right" party, as most of them are.

Even so, Joshua Huder points out that there remain enough competitive House districts that Democrats could win the House in 2014 if they swept every one of them. That's not going to happen. Indeed, with President Barack Obama's approval ratings in the low to mid 40 percent range and most people still down about the economy, Republicans will probably pick up a few seats. But it's very possible that a good year for the Democrats in 2016 could be enough to tip the House back to them, and it's even more possible that a good year for Republicans in 2016 could be followed by a solid Democratic win in the subsequent midterms.

It's also true that demographic shifts aren't that predictable over the decade-long life of a districting plan. The Cook Report chart Cillizza focuses on shows a drop in safe Republicans districts that Cook finds tilted 5 points or more to Republicans between 2012 and 2014, and that there are only four more of those safe Republican seats than there were in 2008, when Democrats had a comfortable majority in the House.

To be fair, Cillizza does say that the Republican majority should be safe "short of a major electoral wave." But that's essentially always true: The House virtually never changes hands, and certainly not in the last 50 years, without strong partisan tides helping the minority party.

But if conditions do favor the Democrats in 2016, 2018, or 2020 -- the three elections after this year and before the next redistricting -- there's really no reason to believe Democrats couldn't take advantage of them.

The bottom line? Republicans probably do have a slight districting edge in the House at the moment (more from "natural" advantages based on where people live than on gerrymandered districts for partisan gain), and incumbency is still helpful even in these times of strong party voting, so it's always a significant advantage to have a majority. But it's still a 50/50 nation, and that means no electoral locks in the House, the Senate or the White House.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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    Jonathan Bernstein at

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    Max Berley at

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