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Coffee House

US Elections: Will everything just stay the same?

30 October 2012

5:06 PM

30 October 2012

5:06 PM

We’re now just a week away from election day in the United States. And after all the campaign rallies, all the debates, all the billions of dollars spent, it looks quite possible that things will be left pretty much the same as they are now — as far as control of the federal government goes, anyway.

The most likely outcome of the Presidential election? Barack Obama re-elected. The most likely outcome of the Senate elections? 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents who caucus with the Democrats — just as there are now. And the most likely outcome of the House of Representatives elections? Well, the expert team at the Cook Political Report predicts that the Democrats will gain between zero and ten seats — at best reducing the Republican majority from 49 to 29. While there’s little chance of the Democrats losing their Senate majority — as I noted yesterday — there’s almost no chance that they’ll take control of the House.

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In fact, while a lot may have changed in individual races, the overall picture of the House elections looks very much as it did when I examined it three months ago. According to the Cook team, 349 of the 435 seats are now safe — 157 for the Democrats and 192 for the GOP. Of the 86 competitive races, the Democrat is the favourite in 27 and the Republican in 33, with the remaining 26 rated as tossups.

It may seem odd that the Democrats aren’t likely to do much better than they did in 2010, despite having improved their standing (at least relative to the Republicans) in public opinion over the past two years. In the 2010 House elections, the Republicans secured 51.4 per cent of the popular vote to the Democrats’ 44.8 per cent. This time, the polls point to a roughly even split in the popular vote. So why will that improvement not translate into substantially more seats? For one, as I said back in July, there’s the Republicans’ incumbency advantage. But the Democrats also have five Congressmen retiring in strongly Republican-leaning districts — five seats that the Republicans are likely to gain. The Republicans, by contrast, have no retirements in strongly Democrat-leaning districts. That puts the 25-seat net gain the Democrats would need for a majority even further out of reach — if they do lose all five of those races, they’d need to find 30 gains elsewhere for a majority.

So after next week’s election, Congress will probably be left divided, with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House — just as it’s been for the past two years. The biggest question mark hangs over the White House, but chances are we won’t see a change there either.

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