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Significant Partisan Shift Likely in 2012 US House Races

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Redistricting cycles have seen the greatest net partisan advantage change in the US House over the last 100 years compared to election years ending in 0, 4, 6, or 8

johnboehner10.jpgWith three consecutive partisan waves sweeping the nation since 2006 and state legislatures, commissions, and undoubtedly courts churning out new congressional redistricting maps in the coming months, political observers are pondering whether 2012 will bring another colorful sea change to the nation's lower legislative chamber.

With redistricting yet unsettled across a majority of the states, discontent bubbling up within the Democratic base, as well as a splintered Republican Party trying to absorb a growing Tea Party contingent, handicapping the 2012 U.S. House races at this stage is full of question marks.

Still, electoral history over the last 100 years suggests there is good reason to think another significant shift in the partisan advantage of the U.S. House is possible in 15 months.

A Smart Politics review of cycle-to-cycle changes in the partisan composition of the U.S. House since it settled on 435 members in 1912 finds the largest such changes have occurred during redistricting years ending in '2' - with the net partisan advantage changing at a 34.2 percent greater rate than in non-redistricting cycles.

Redistricting cycles have seen an average swing of 36.1 seats, compared to an average 26.9-seat cycle-to-cycle change in years ending in '0' (28.5 seat average), '4' (29.0 seats), '6' (19.1 seats), and '8' (31.0 seats).

While the last few redistricting cycles have been rather tame by historical standards - with a net +8 seat gain for the Republicans in 2002 and a net +9 seat gain for the Democrats in 1992 - the general picture over the last 100 years has been one of significant partisan shake-ups in the House in years ending in '2.'

Seven of these 10 redistricting years since 1912 have generated double-digit cycle-to-cycle shifts in the partisan advantage in the House, including six cycles at more than 22 seats.

The biggest such shift over the last century occurred in a redistricting year - 1932 - with the election of Franklin Roosevelt during a Democratic tidal wave.

During that cycle, Democrats emerged with a +97-seat gain compared to the previous cycle to take a 313 to 117 seat advantage in the House.

Of course, the most commonly observed variation in the partisan divide of the U.S. House is the midterm election, in which the president's party usually yields a larger than normal number of seats to the opposition party.

That maxim famously came to fruition last November when Barack Obama and the Democrats shed 63 seats during the 2010 midterms.

Since 1912, midterms have seen an average cycle-to-cycle partisan advantage change of 33.6 seats in the House, compared to just 23.9 seats during presidential election years.

Other notable cycle-to-cycle gains made during redistricting years include a 61-seat Democratic gain in 1912, a 76-seat Democratic gain in 1922, a 47-seat Republican gain in 1942, a 22-seat Republican gain in 1952, and a 27-seat Democratic gain in 1982.

So will there be a fourth consecutive swing of 20+ U.S. House seats in 2012?

The volatile political climate suggests this is likely, and there is historical precedent over the last century - though in which direction is the question.

On the one hand, Republicans have more seats in play. On the other hand, Republicans control a majority of state legislatures which dictate how new district lines are to be drawn.

The last time such a shift took place in the U.S. House was 1942 (+47 GOP), 1944 (+20 Democrat), 1946 (+55 GOP), 1948 (+75 Democrat), 1950 (+28 GOP), and 1952 (+22 GOP).

The country also saw a four cycle 20+ seat swing in 1918 (+25 GOP), 1920 (+62 GOP), 1922 (+76 Democrat), and 1924 (+22 GOP).

Largest Cycle-to-Cycle Net Seat Shift in Partisan Advantage of U.S. House Since 1912

Cycle ending in
Total net GOP-DEM seat change
Average
2
361
36.1
8
310
31.0
4
290
29.0
0
285
28.5
6
191
19.1
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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  • That maxim famously came to fruition last November when Barack Obama and the Democrats shed 63 seats during the 2010 midterms

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    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


    An Idaho Six Pack

    Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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