House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thinks she might be House speaker again come January. She told reporters on Tuesday that, if the election were held today, Democrats would win the House.
Wishful thinking or bona fide prediction?
At this point, it's more the former. Democrats taking over the House is still in the realm of the hypothetical — with little polling data to back it up — but it's also not as outlandish as it may have once seemed, given Donald Trump's mushrooming problems.
The Fix has just updated its 2016 House race ratings, and while some races have moved in Democrats' favor, several others have moved in Republicans' favor. It's just too early to know the full effect of Trump's terrible two weeks and how much it filters downballot; it takes time to conduct polling, and polling of House races is scattershot as it is.
What we do know: To take over the House, Democrats need to pretty well run the table. We currently rate 52 seats as at least somewhat competitive, and Democrats would need to win 38 — 71 percent — of them to get to 218 seats and a House majority.
To do that, they would need to hold all 12 seats we currently rate as “lean Democratic,” all 17 we currently rate as “toss-up,” and nine of the 23 seats we currently rate as “lean Republican.” In other words, they probably need to see those “lean Republican” seats shift into the “toss-up” category in the coming weeks. As of now, not even Democrats are saying that has happened.
And the odds are long. As we've written before, Democrats didn't recruit top-tier candidates in many of these districts, and the pivotal ones have clear Republican leans, making it difficult to win them even if Trump loses those areas.
As I noted back in August, in the big GOP wave of 2014, Republicans only took over four districts that leaned toward Democrats, according to the Cook Political Voting Index (PVI). Were Democrats to win back the House this year, they would likely have to win a dozen or more seats that clearly lean toward Republicans, just by virtue of how friendly the map is to Republicans (both because of natural partisan sorting and gerrymandering). Republicans have an inherent advantage in holding the House that serves as essentially a sand dune beating back whatever wave Democrats can produce.
What we also know: There is some evidence of polling moving in Democrats' direction, but it's very limited for now. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll this week showed Democrats leading on the “generic ballot" -- i.e. “Would you vote for a generic Republican or a generic Democrat for Congress" -- by 6 points.
Polling on this question is infrequent, but that's one of the biggest margins Democrats have seen this year. And this was the first and only high-quality poll asking this question since Trump's lewd video hit the headlines on Friday.
What's more, the generic ballot is a pretty good indicator of an incoming wave — even if it's not a perfect predictor. Here's a chart The Fix's Philip Bump made back in 2014. That year, Republicans had a late 6-point advantage on the generic ballot, per Washington Post-ABC News polling, and it made sizable gains.
As for individual races, RealClearPolitics hasn't recorded one publicly released poll on a key House race since the Trump video. In fact, it only has one poll conducted since Trump's poor first-debate performance — a Siena College poll showing Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) maintaining a 15-point lead in a race Democrats had hoped to make competitive. Today we're actually moving that race (New York's 1st District) in the GOP's favor, from “toss-up” to “lean Republican.”
In the coming days and weeks, we'll keep an eye on those polls of individual races and the generic ballots to see whether the NBC-WSJ poll is a leading indicator. For now, though, we're still talking in very hypothetical terms about Democrats taking over the House and down-ballot Republicans paying a price for Trump's blunders.
And it's worth noting that, in all of this, Pelosi has made this prediction before. “We would win,” she said in May of the election being held right then. “We would pick up more than the 20, we could get to the 30. But it’s not today.”
And it's not today either.
Here are the ratings changes we're making:
In Democrats' favor (9)
Arizona's 1st District (D-OPEN) -- from “toss-up” to “lean Democratic”
Nebraska's 2nd District (D-Rep. Brad Ashford) -- from “toss-up” to “lean Democratic”
Florida's 7th District (R-Rep. John L. Mica) -- from “lean Republican” to “toss-up”
Michigan's 1st District (R-OPEN) -- from “lean Republican” to “toss-up”
New Jersey's 5th District (R-Rep. Scott Garrett) -- from “lean Republican” to “toss-up”
Alaska's at-large District (R-Rep. Don Young) -- from “safe Republican” to “lean Republican”
California's 49th District (R-Rep. Darrell Issa) -- from “safe Republican” to “lean Republican”
Indiana's 9th District (OPEN) -- from “safe Republican” to “lean Republican”
Kansas's 3rd District (R-Rep. Kevin Yoder) -- from “safe Republican” to “lean Republican”
In Republicans' favor (7)
Iowa's 1st District (R-Rep. Rod Blum) -- from “lean Democratic” to “toss-up”
Maine's 2nd District (R-Rep. Bruce Poliquin) -- from “lean Democratic” to “toss-up”
New York's 1st District (R-Rep. Lee Zeldin) -- from “toss-up” to “lean Republican”
New York's 24th District (R-Rep. John Katko) -- from “toss-up” to “lean Republican”
Utah's 4th District (R-Rep. Mia Love) -- from “toss-up” to “lean Republican”
Wisconsin's 8th District (OPEN) -- from “toss-up” to “lean Republican”
Pennsylvania's 6th District (R-Rep. Ryan Costello) -- from “lean Republican” to “safe Republican”