Just about every political expert in captivity is pontificating this election season on who will control the House of Representatives following the November mid-term election. Most forecast a big Democratic win.
But pay no attention to those impostors behind the curtain. The guy who really matters is Dr. Jim Campbell, distinguished professor of political science at the University at Buffalo and one of the nation’s foremost experts on reading election tea leaves.
Campbell has been performing his permutations and calculations for decades. He is a political scientist for a reason, because his predictions stem from a scientific approach involving a host of mathematical, economic and sociological factors.
And he’s good at it. His presidential prognostication becomes more anticipated throughout the nation each election cycle, and his formula to anoint a winner has pretty much been on target when applied to every election dating to 1948.
This year, his crystal ball sees Democrats gaining as many as 44 seats, firmly controlling the House. Republicans will continue to rule the Senate, where Campbell sees them gaining two seats.
If the professor’s predictions exceed those of others, it may stem from the “seats in trouble” model he uses in collaboration with Charlie Cook of the Washington-based Cook Political Report. Campbell’s model zeroes in on each seat, combining input from district experts with Cook’s classic “solid, leaning, toss-up, or likely to change” classifications, along with statistical analysis of partisan seat change.
Campbell calls it a “value added” approach; using the local data with other factors to construct a national model.
“Historically, the party with more seats that are vulnerable loses more than just the seats identified as in trouble,” Campbell told the Politics Column. “It’s like Cook may pick up a wave in August that’s going out to sea, but by the time it reaches shore, now it’s much bigger.”
Two of the Republican seats in trouble this year are in New York – John Faso’s 19th District and Claudia Tenney in the 22nd. The race for the 27th held by Chris Collins – for all of his legal difficulties – is still seen as likely Republican.
Campbell recognizes that in almost all mid-term elections during a presidential first term, the party in congressional power loses seats. In 1994, for example, Democrats lost 54 seats during Bill Clinton’s first term. They lost 64 in 2010 under first-termer Barack Obama. So it can be expected that GOP control of the House faces a natural threat.
Under Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Clinton and Obama, each party suffered double digit losses when presidential approval dipped to around 40 percent. Last week, President Trump last week slipped well below 40 percent in at least three national polls.
“You expect a president with approval ratings of 40 percent to take a pretty good hit,” Campbell said.
But the current Republican majority was still elected in 2016 with Trump and his high unfavorable numbers leading the ticket. That aspect has not changed, he noted, but maybe voters have.
“The side out of office gets angrier and more motivated to vote,” he said, pointing to conservatives and tea party types venting against Obama in 2010.
“Now it’s the left that has built up anger and that may pull people to the polls,” he said. “And maybe the Trump people have become complacent.”
This time the stars, moons and planets also favor Democrats because 44 Republicans are “retiring” from the House, providing an advantage to Democratic challengers facing opponents without the advantage of incumbency.
Then again, many of those retirees may have seen the same negatives forecast by Campbell and got out while the getting was good.
All of this points strongly to Nancy Pelosi regaining the speaker’s gavel during a January ceremony on the rostrum of the House. For politics watchers, the show will be very much worth watching.
“The new odd couple,” Campbell says, “Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.”