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2016 House

Sabato's Crystal Ball

Incumbent reelection rates higher than average in 2016

The Crystal Ball will be away for the next two weeks. We’ll be back on Thursday, Jan. 5. We wish you and your family Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. — The Editors With Republican Sen.-elect John Kennedy’s triumph in the Louisiana runoff last weekend, victories by two other Republicans in Louisiana House races, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) concession last week to Gov.-elect Roy Cooper (D) in North Carolina, the winners of 2016’s House, Senate, and gubernatorial races are now set. This allows us to do a little housekeeping. Kennedy’s win confirms that this is the first cycle in the history of popular Senate elections that every state that held a Senate election in a presidential cycle voted for the same party for both president and for Senate (34 for 34 this year). Also, finalizing these results permits us to give a final assessment of our down-ballot Crystal Ball projections for 2016: We picked 32 of 34 Senate races correctly, along with 10 of 12 gubernatorial races and 428/435 House races. Looking over the down-ballot outcome, there’s one inescapable conclusion in a year that was defined by a political outsider, Donald Trump, winning the presidency: It was still a really

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

Partisan Geographic Sorting

Speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, famously declared that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” Obama then went on to decry political pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.” The implication of Obama’s speech was that the perception of geographic sorting of the country into reliably Democratic and Republican areas was not based in fact, but was instead a false narrative imposed by the media. Obama’s rhetoric of unity and homogeneity across party lines notwithstanding, there is substantial evidence that cultural and lifestyle preferences are strongly related to political tastes. Political scientists have demonstrated that political ideology and party identification are predictive of choices in areas as varied as mate selection, media consumption, cleanliness, office décor, music tastes, and housing decisions. If such relationships between political and lifestyle preferences are strong enough, and individuals are sufficiently willing and able to “vote with their feet” and move to areas that are a better match for their tastes, the implication is clear: We should expect to see the emergence over time of a geographically divided

Steven Webster

Watch Today’s American Democracy Conference

The Crystal Ball is coming out a day early this week because we wanted to invite our readers to watch the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ 18th annual American Democracy Conference, which is going on today from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington D.C. Registration is full but members of the media interested in covering the conference are welcome to attend, and we will be streaming the conference live throughout the day at Our featured speakers are Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, at 9 a.m., and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) at 12:30 p.m. Additionally, Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will interview Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, at 1:30 p.m. There will also be three panels discussing various aspects of the 2016 campaign. Here’s the full program:   9:00 a.m. Welcoming Remarks by Larry J. Sabato, Director, UVA Center for Politics   9:05 a.m. Keynote Speaker: Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign   9:45 a.m. – 11 a.m. Panel I – Politics and the Fourth Estate Moderator: Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor

UVA Center for Politics

16 For ’16

Editor’s Note: The Crystal Ball is taking the week off for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll be back with another edition on Thursday, Dec. 1. Now that we’ve had a week to digest the results of the 2016 election, here are some observations about what happened and what the results might tell us about the future: 1. Electoral map tilts to the GOP In close elections, the Electoral College will probably continue to tilt to the GOP. Twice in 16 years, we’ve had a “misfire,” where the popular vote went to one major-party candidate while the other candidate secured a majority of the electoral vote. This is because Democrats secure large, sometimes enormous, majorities in mega-states such as California, New York, and Illinois, while Republicans have just Texas, where Donald Trump’s margin of victory was nearly 450,000 votes fewer than Mitt Romney’s. (You should never join “just” with Texas, but we trust you’ll see what we mean.) Other sizable states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, are closely divided and add only small pluralities to the candidate that wins them. While the cumulative popular vote means nothing under the Constitution, it is not a good thing for a president

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Well, what can we say — we blew it. We thought the signs pointed to Hillary Clinton winning the White House. We thought that even if she lost Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, her Midwestern “firewall” of states that not only had voted for Barack Obama twice, but hadn’t voted for a Republican since the 1980s, would hold for her. It didn’t — Trump blew a hole in what we dubbed “Fortress Obama.” Remarkably, this all happened while Clinton was winning Virginia by a larger margin than Obama did in 2012 and almost certainly winning the national popular vote. Every two years, we put out an update after the election asking, “How did we do?” Well, let’s see: President Do we really have to get into it? OK, fine. We wrongly insisted for months that Clinton was always leading the race and never put her below 270 electoral votes. As of this writing, Trump won 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228, according to NBC News projections. We missed the following Leans Democratic states: Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We had Wisconsin as Likely Democratic, yet Trump also carried it. Two other Leans Democratic states — Michigan (where Trump leads) and

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Our Final 2016 picks

After a nearly two-year campaign — kicked off in December 2014 by Jeb Bush (remember him?) — we’ve come to it at last. Election Day is less than 24 hours away. And we know why you’re here: You just want the picks. So let’s cut to the chase. Table 1 shows our final selections for the Electoral College, Senate, House, and the governorships. Table 1: Crystal Ball 2016 election projections Let’s start with the presidency: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE Map 1: Crystal Ball Electoral College projection Despite some wobbles along the way, we’ve favored Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States ever since we did our first handicapping of the Clinton vs. Donald Trump matchup back in late March. The edge we had for her back then has eroded a little bit at the end — we had her as high as 352 electoral votes, and in the final tally we have her down to 322, with 216 for Trump. If this is how it turns out, Trump will fare 10 electoral votes better than Mitt Romney, and Clinton will do 10 electoral votes worse than Barack Obama in 2012 — 11 or 12 if rogue Washington electors

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Is Clinton slipping?

Hillary Clinton has picked an awful time to hit one of the rough patches that has plagued her throughout the campaign. Now with just days to go until Election Day, there’s added uncertainty about the outcome. But while she may not be on the brink of an Electoral College win the size of Barack Obama’s in 2008 or even 2012, her position as the clear frontrunner in this race endures. Now, granted, some of this is, for her, bad luck and poor timing out of her control: The “Comey Effect,” referring to FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision to inform Congress of new emails potentially related to the bureau’s investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, has put a dent in Clinton in the final stages of the race, although the contest was tightening in some ways before the news. The campaign’s actions also tell us that there must be at least a little bit of alarm in Brooklyn: It is putting some advertising money (not huge amounts but very noticeable) into some states that the campaign has largely ignored in recent months, like Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Trump has also campaigned in these states

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Incumbency, not Republican Gerrymandering, is the Main Obstacle to a Democratic House Majority

With only a few days left in the 2016 election campaign, most national and swing state polls indicate that Hillary Clinton is favored to defeat Donald Trump in the presidential election. Democrats also appear to have a decent chance to pick up at least four Senate seats and thereby take back control of the upper chamber (with a Vice President Tim Kaine breaking ties if it’s 50-50). When it comes to regaining control of the House of Representatives, however, Democrats’ chances do not appear to be very good. Most political observers, including the Crystal Ball, agree that Democrats are unlikely to gain the 30 net seats they need to retake control of the House even though recent polls give them a lead of around four points in the national popular vote for the House of Representatives. Why are Democrats struggling to pick up the 30 seats they need to take back the House of Representatives despite their lead in the national popular vote? The explanation, according to most observers, is that current House districts, drawn largely by Republican state legislatures in the aftermath of the GOP’s sweeping victories in the 2010 midterm elections, make it almost impossible for Democrats to

Alan I. Abramowitz


Another week has passed in the presidential race and it appears that Donald Trump is not making up much if any ground on Hillary Clinton. Last month, we coined the term “Fortress Obama” to describe an outer and inner ring of defenses Clinton had against Trump as she sought to recreate Barack Obama’s Electoral College majority. The outer ring consisted of states like Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and Ohio — states that Obama won twice but that are vulnerable to Trump — as well as North Carolina, which Obama carried only in 2008. These are states that Trump needs but that Clinton could probably do without. Then there’s the inner ring, states like Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, none of which Clinton can afford to lose if Trump were to completely knock down the outer ring. At this point, Clinton is no worse than 50-50 to carry each of the outer ring states — even states like Iowa and Ohio, where polls have been very close or even show a Trump edge — and she seems secure in all of the inner ring states. This is why Clinton is such a heavy favorite to win the presidency, and our

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

House 2016: Democrats gain in ratings

While there has not yet been a major breakthrough for Democrats in the House, their fortunes do appear to be improving, at least marginally. We’re making 11 ratings changes: nine favor Democrats, while two favor Republicans. Let’s start with the changes that boost the GOP. While Hillary Clinton is going to dominate Donald Trump in their shared state of residence, New York, Trump may marginally improve on Mitt Romney’s margins outside of New York City’s five boroughs. That could help Reps. John Katko (R, NY-24), who occupies an upstate seat that Barack Obama won by 16 points, and Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1), who holds a swing seat on the eastern end of Long Island. Katko beat an incumbent by a remarkable 20 points in 2014, and Democrats have had a hard time truly putting the seat in play. Zeldin also won by a surprisingly large eight-point margin over an incumbent two years ago in one of the more politically balanced seats in the nation. Recent Siena polls showed the incumbents with big leads — too big, perhaps, but there seems to be some agreement that the Republicans are ahead. A wave could still wash away these incumbents but they move

Kyle Kondik


This may be a particularly bad time to write an update on the House. But we’re going to do so anyway, if only to explain why that is. Mainly, it’s because we’re in a very hazy period in the battle for control of the lower chamber — a battle that, it should be noted, the Republicans were winning handily as of a week ago. And Republicans may still be winning handily. No, that does not mean that Republicans were in line to add to their majority, which is bigger than any they’ve held in almost every American’s lifetime. But they were poised to limit Democratic gains to a reasonable 10 to 15 seats, or maybe even less than that, which would have been a good outcome for Republicans given how overextended they are in the House. Democrats need to win 30 seats to take the House, and they remain significantly out of range of that target. A sign of the Republicans’ strength in the House so far this cycle is that it’s hard to argue the Democrats have truly put away any competitive, Republican-held seat. Reps. Rod Blum (R, IA-1) and Cresent Hardy (R, NV-4), two fluky 2014 winners in

Kyle Kondik

Now We Wait

Dear Readers: We’re operating on a slightly modified schedule this week and next. There will be no Crystal Ball on Thursday, Sept. 29, but we’ll be back with a special issue on Monday, Oct. 3. — The Editors The first debate is over! At least everyone survived. If you’re confused about who’s up and who’s down in this crazy presidential contest, you’ve got plenty of company. Almost hourly now, the political community is being bombarded with new national and swing state polls — and few of them agree with one another. More than ever before, the assumptions pollsters make about the composition of the likely voter pool helps to determine the trial-heat numbers we see. As always, we urge you to avoid the temptation to cherry pick the surveys that give good news for your candidate. Instead, go to RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster and check out the ever-evolving poll averages for the national race and especially all the swing states. It is dangerous to offer confident predictions of how the public will react to a debate immediately after it is concluded. The instant polls you may see (or may have already seen) after the debate declaring one of the candidates

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

The Political Science Election Forecasts of the 2016 Presidential and Congressional Elections, Part 5

Dear Readers: This is the final posting in a series of political science forecasts for the 2016 races for the White House and Congress. James E. Campbell, author of the new book Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America, has assembled presidential and congressional forecasts from eight different individuals and/or teams this year. They were gathered for a symposium to be published in PS: Political Science and Politics, but are available first here in the Crystal Ball. The models are based on factors such as the state of the economy, polling, whether an incumbent president is running for reelection, and other indicators. They can often be a better predictor of the eventual results than polls alone, and many are finalized months before the election. We are pleased to feature the work of the many top political scientists who have built these models, both in an attempt to predict the outcome of the election and, more importantly, to identify the factors that actually affect presidential and congressional races. The details and predictions of the final set of forecasts is presented below along with an updated table of all the presidential and congressional forecasts in this series. An early look at the

UVA Center for Politics


In the famous Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot, two men are waiting for a third man, Godot, to arrive, but he never does. In the 2016 race for the House, the Democrats (and the Republicans) are waiting for Hillary Clinton to generate a down-ticket, anti-Donald Trump wave. If she does, the field could tilt to the Democrats and give them a fighting chance to net the 30 seats they need to win back the House. But Republicans argue that the Clinton wave will be like Godot — it won’t show up. The wave’s absence will allow Republicans to run their own races, limiting damage to the Republican caucus in the event of a Trump loss and maintaining a big GOP edge in the House. As of now, Republican House incumbents have seemed largely insulated from Trump down the ballot. Yes, our current ratings do suggest that Democrats should net somewhere in the low double digits. If one assumes that all the Safe, Likely, and Leaning seats in fact vote that way, Republicans would have 227 seats, and Democrats would have 192, with 16 Toss-ups. Split the Toss-ups down the middle, and Republicans would have 235 House seats and Democrats

Kyle Kondik

Generic Ballot Forecasting Model: Democrats Could Take Back Senate but Republicans Likely to Hold House with Reduced Majority

Since the conclusion of the Republican and Democratic national conventions last month, pundits, political reporters, and ordinary Americans have, for understandable reasons, been preoccupied with developments in the presidential campaign. And the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has certainly provided plenty of material for serious political observers as well as late night comics. With the presidential contest getting so much coverage in the national media, however, much less attention has been devoted to the critical battle for control of the next Congress. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, whether Republicans or Democrats control the House and Senate will have enormous consequences for the direction of the country and the ability of the next president to carry out his or her agenda. At present, Republicans hold a 247 to 186 seat majority in the House of Representatives (with vacancies in two formerly Democratic-held seats that the party will easily hold onto). All 435 House seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats are up for election this year. In reality, however, only around 50 House seats and perhaps a dozen Senate seats are really in play — the rest are completely safe for one party or the

Alan I. Abramowitz