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2012 House

Sabato's Crystal Ball


Now that we have official election results from nearly every state, we wanted to offer some closing thoughts on election 2012. So here are 10 bite-sized nuggets, an appetizer for your holiday feasts. As a programming note, we’re taking the next two weeks off to recharge for the next cycle. Our next issue of the Crystal Ball will hit your inboxes on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. From all of us here at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, we wish our readers Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas. — The Editors 1. Thank God it wasn’t close One of these days we’ll have another 2000-style election, where the result will be so tight that we will not know the outcome on the election evening — or for many days thereafter. Consider New York State — which a month and a half after the fact still has not certified its election results. (We remember Superstorm Sandy, but New Jersey was hit just as hard.) Even a critical New York state Senate race remains up in the air: George Amedore (R) has a 39-vote lead on Cecilia Tkaczyk (D), who is not conceding and is likely to appeal a court decision

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Post-election book will break down 2012

The University of Virginia Center for Politics is pleased to announce that its latest post-election book, Barack Obama and the New America: The 2012 Election and the Changing Face of Politics, is in final production, with a targeted release date of mid-January 2013. Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato has brought together top journalists and academics from across the political spectrum to examine every facet of the 2012 election, and what its outcome will mean for the nation moving forward. In frank, accessible prose, each author offers insight that goes beyond the headlines, and dives into the underlying forces and shifts that drove the election from its earliest developments to its dramatic conclusion. This book will feature contributions from: — Alan Abramowitz, Crystal Ball Senior Columnist — Diana Owen, Georgetown University — Jamelle Bouie, American Prospect — James Campbell, SUNY-Buffalo — Kyle Kondik and Geoff Skelley, UVA Center for Politics — Michael Toner, former FEC chairman — Nate Cohn, The New Republic — Rhodes Cook, Crystal Ball Senior Columnist — Robert Costa, National Review — Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics — Susan MacManus, University of South Florida The book will be published by Rowman and Littlefield. For more information and to

UVA Center for Politics


Programming note: The Crystal Ball is taking the week off for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll be back with another edition on Thursday, Nov. 29. So what can we glean from last week’s election? Plenty. Here are 12 takeaways from the 2012 election, presented in bite-sized pieces. One note: all vote totals and percentages used in this piece were as of Wednesday morning; the figures may change as states continue to finalize their results. 1. 2012 results mirror 2008 Crystal Ball Senior Columnist Alan Abramowitz points out in the chart below that how a state voted in 2008 was predictive of how it voted in 2012. The correlation between President Obama’s margin in 2012 and his margin in 2008 across all 50 states and D.C. is .96. In other words, you can closely predict Obama’s margin in 2012 almost perfectly from his margin in 2008; his drop from 2008 to 2012 was fairly uniform, and limited the number of electoral votes he lost from 2008. Chart 1: Comparing 2012 Obama vote to 2008 Note: Click on chart for larger version. The biggest outliers are Utah, where Obama did substantially worse than expected in 2012, and Alaska, where he did substantially better

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


With a slight, unexpected lift provided by Hurricane Sandy, Mother Nature’s October surprise, President Barack Obama appears poised to win his second term tomorrow. Our final Electoral College projection has the president winning the key swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin and topping Mitt Romney, with 290 electoral votes. This has been a roller-coaster campaign, though very tight ever since Romney dramatically outshone Obama in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3. Yet for a challenger to defeat an incumbent, the fates must be with the challenger again and again. Who could have imagined that a Frankenstorm would act as a circuit-breaker on the Republican’s campaign, blowing Romney off center stage for three critical days in the campaign’s last week, while enabling Obama to dominate as presidential comforter-in-chief, assisted by his new bipartisan best friend, Gov. Chris Christie (R)? Adding to the president’s good fortune was a final jobs report that was basically helpful because it wasn’t disastrously bad — that is, the unemployment rate failed to jump back above the psychologically damaging level of 8%. Romney could have used that number to build a crescendo for change. Instead, the final potential obstacle to

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Projection: Republicans will hold the House

While there will be major shifts in the House delegations of many states on Election Day, and while more than a handful of incumbents appear likely to lose, the total change in each party’s net total of House seats will probably not be large. That means it’s good to be the Republicans, who already hold a big edge in the House — an edge that we project them to keep. The Crystal Ball can now project that the Republicans will retain their House majority, although we suspect it will be at least a bit smaller than their current 25-seat edge. While we have been saying the Republicans were heavy favorites in the House for months, this is the first time we’ve said definitively that they will keep the majority. Given the topsy-turvy presidential race, it appeared in mid-September that President Obama was building a lead that might actually, through his coattails, put the House in play. But after the presidential race returned to its achingly close state, it’s become clear that while individual races are fluctuating, there’s not a clear wave building for either side. We will continue to update our ratings until the Monday before Election Day, and it

Kyle Kondik

House update: In Electoral College, tie goes to Romney

Partisan control of the individual states’ congressional delegations is a largely meaningless statistic — until, one of these days, it isn’t. In the event of a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, the president of the United States would be selected by the U.S. House. In a rather archaic tradition, each of the 50 state congressional delegations would get a single vote to cast, and whichever candidate won more votes in the House would win. If there was a tie this November — which is not an impossibility — the new, 113th Congress would pick the president. And that would be Mitt Romney; a state-by-state analysis shows why. Republicans have a built-in advantage because they control the delegations of several small states: in a hypothetical House vote, Wyoming’s single representative has as much power as California’s 53. Republicans also appear likely to control the delegations in states that Barack Obama probably will win, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, and will likely have a split in the even more Democratic New Jersey. The Garden State is among a handful of delegations that could be split evenly among the parties — for instance, Minnesota’s House contingent currently has four Republicans and four

Kyle Kondik


Two months ago, we said that “barring a major blunder by either candidate,” the presidential debates were unlikely to be all that decisive. After one debate, it’s fair to say that while President Obama didn’t make an obvious verbal gaffe during his first debate with Mitt Romney, Obama’s entire, listless debate performance can be characterized as a “major blunder.” And it’s costing him significantly in the race. This is what a historically bad debate performance looks like: On Tuesday afternoon, Romney took the lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national horserace polls for the first time this calendar year by grabbing a tiny, less than one percentage point lead (Obama was up 3.1 points the day of the debate). As of this writing, we do not have reams of credible, new information about the swing states, but in the days to come there will be many more surveys of the top states. Based on what we know now, however, we’re going to make a few changes to our maps. We’ve long thought that in a close presidential race, Florida would likely end up in Romney’s column. Given that it was the president’s third weakest win in 2008, it naturally —

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Expect turnover — but not a wave — in state legislative races

While the nation’s attention is fixated on the presidential and congressional races, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of states this year will also decide their state legislative contests. Walking us through the state legislative picture once again this cycle is Tim Storey, one of the nation’s top experts on state-level politics. Storey is an elections analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, where he has been researching legislative elections and redistricting for more than 20 years. America’s 50 state legislatures are often called the “laboratories” or “engines” of democracy. That has perhaps never been more true than in the past couple of years when legislatures, some dominated by conservatives, some by liberals and some by moderates from both parties, have enacted numerous bold policy initiatives across the ideological spectrum. Legislators have been particularly active in tackling major issues over the past several years, even as Washington has been gridlocked. States passed groundbreaking, and often controversial, laws on same-sex marriage, immigration, the environment and collective bargaining by public employees, to name a few. And with the economy bumping along, state lawmakers have had to make difficult budgeting decisions. State legislatures allocate and make policy for more than

Tim Storey

Gubernatorial and House ratings update

While other gubernatorial races may get closer as Election Day nears, right now the top gubernatorial tilts in the country are in two small but politically active states: New Hampshire and Montana. After winning their respective primaries on Sept. 11, ex-state Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) and lawyer Ovide Lamontagne (R), who narrowly lost the GOP Senate nomination to now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2010, have found themselves engaged in a tight battle — polling seems to show the race within the margin of error. We wonder if Lamontagne might be a little too conservative even for New Hampshire, but this race — just like the Granite State’s presidential and U.S. House contests — is a toss-up. On the other side of the country in Montana, state Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) and ex-Rep. Rick Hill (R) are locked in another margin-of-error race. While Mitt Romney should win Montana fairly comfortably, this gubernatorial race is quite competitive, along with the contests for Sen. Jon Tester’s (D) Senate seat and, to a lesser extent, the open U.S. House seat. A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed Bullock up 44% to 43% over Hill — too close to call, obviously. Our sources in Montana tell us

Kyle Kondik

Election Tilts toward Obama, Senate Democrats

Three weeks after the Democratic National Convention, we see little indication that the lead President Barack Obama took after it has faded. Obama is leading Mitt Romney by about four percentage points nationally, according to an average of national horserace surveys, and his edge has trickled down to the swing states. So with 40 days to go, we’re moving several toss-up states in the president’s direction. Our changes push Obama over the magic 270 mark, but we are not calling the race. First, the debates are yet to come. There is at least the possibility that, if Romney fares particularly well or Obama does poorly, the drift of this contest could change. Second, other events — international (a crisis) or domestic (dramatically poor economic numbers) — could theoretically occur to re-write the narrative of the race. So caution is always in order with almost six weeks to go, yet President Obama clearly leads at the moment. Chart 1: Crystal Ball ratings changes, presidential race Map 1: Updated Crystal Ball electoral map These rating changes move five of our eight toss-up states into Obama’s column, giving him 290 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, with Colorado, Florida and New Hampshire as

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

House battle at relative standstill, but watch generic ballot

After shuffling many of our House ratings, it’s pretty obvious that the race for the House remains locked in a battle of trench warfare, with little obvious movement on either side. Given that the Republicans start from a position of great strength — Democrats need to net 25 seats to take control of the House — the GOP remains a heavy favorite to hold the lower chamber of Congress. Our new ratings show 195 safe seats for the Republicans and 156 safe seats for the Democrats, with 14 likely Republican seats and 13 likely Democratic seats. That leaves 23 leaning Republican and 20 leaning Democratic with 14 toss-ups. Only 57 of 435 seats — 13% — are in the leaning or toss-up categories. Our last full House update projected a Democratic gain of six seats; this time, we’re projecting a Democratic gain of four seats. Given the nature of the House — where many races are likely to be close to the end and where reliable polling is relatively scant, compared to Senate or gubernatorial races — our projections are bound to change, perhaps dramatically, in the last seven weeks before the election. But the center of gravity in this

Kyle Kondik


For the second straight week, the Crystal Ball is moving a toss-up Senate race to the Republican column. Now that ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson has captured the Republican nomination in Wisconsin — winning with 34% of the vote in a crowded, four-way field — we are installing him as a slight favorite to capture the Senate seat now held by the retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D). The Wisconsin Senate race now leans Republican. Thompson, a former four-term governor of the Badger State and Health and Human Services secretary under George W. Bush, was seen as the moderate in the race, a status that almost proved to be his undoing in the primary. As National Journal’s Kevin Brennan pointed out last night, the difference between Thompson and another establishment Senate candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Texas, is the fact that there is no runoff in Wisconsin. If there were, Thompson would probably be doomed: 66% of the primary vote went to other candidates. But Thompson survived, and his more moderate profile is probably good for the general, where he will face Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), a relatively liberal congresswoman. That’s not to say that Thompson is a sure thing to win

Kyle Kondik


Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) got the opponent she wanted. But she still enters the general election season as an underdog. Now that the Missouri Senate primary is complete, we are downgrading the incumbent Democrat’s chances from toss-up to leans Republican. Tuesday night’s surprise Republican primary winner, Rep. Todd Akin, has the inside track to defeat her. In another unpredictable primary night result, Akin roared back from what just a few weeks ago appeared to be third place to defeat free-spending businessman John Brunner, thought to be the favorite of national Republicans, and ex-state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin. It was a strange race: Steelman started off as McCaskill’s likely opponent, but when her campaign got off to a lackluster start, Akin jumped in the race. And after Akin seemed to flop too, national Republicans got behind Brunner. No matter who won the primary, McCaskill became the most endangered Democratic Senate incumbent a few days after Christmas last year, when Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) announced his retirement. Part of McCaskill’s problem is Missouri’s Republican leanings; once considered along with Ohio as one of the nation’s top bellwethers, Missouri resisted Barack Obama’s surge in 2008 and does not

Kyle Kondik


In sports betting parlance, an “over/under” is a bet on whether there will be more or less of a given statistic in a certain game. So, in a football game, say the over/under is 50; gamblers would bet whether the total points scored would be more or less than 50. We include this reference just to make sure readers know what we’re talking about here, and also to include a regular Crystal Ball disclaimer: It’s our policy to never bet money on elections because we do not want to compromise our ratings. That said, if the hypothetical Crystal Ball Casino (that actually sounds like a casino name, right?) were to offer an over/under bet about the number of seats Democrats will win in the 2012 U.S. House elections, the relevant number would not be 218 — a bare House majority — but rather 200. Democrats have little shot at winning the House majority, but they do appear capable of winning some seats. The question is — how many? If we had to call all the races today, we’d estimate a Democratic gain of somewhere between five and 10 seats, with a specific guess of Democrats plus six. That would place

Kyle Kondik


The conventional wisdom in the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives is that Democrats will pick up at least some seats, perhaps netting somewhere in the high single or low double digits, but won’t pick up enough seats to seriously threaten John Boehner’s speakership. Indeed, if we had to project the House right now, we’d say a net Democratic gain of less than 10 seats. One possible but highly unlikely outcome — at least at this point — is that the Democrats overperform and recapture the House majority by netting 25 or more House seats. And equally unlikely but also possible is this: The Republicans winning their biggest House majority since before the Great Depression. Republicans currently hold 242 House seats, which is their biggest majority since 1946, when a postwar backlash against the Democrats and President Harry Truman gave Republicans 246 House seats. That was the first time Republicans had won the majority since 1928, when, in the election that swept Herbert Hoover into the presidency, Republicans won an impressive 267 seats. Two years later, after the stock market crashed, Democrats narrowly won the House majority and kept it through the Great Depression and World War

Kyle Kondik