Via Kristen Soltis, check out Alan Abramowitz’s House forecasting model. It’s February, of course, so rather than spend time on Abramowitz’s headline numbers, let’s take a look at what he considers the realistic range of results.
The current political environment only appears unfavorable for Democrats compared with the extraordinarily favorable environment that the Party enjoyed in both 2006 and 2008. [Emphasis his.] The two structural variables in the model—previous Republican seats and the midterm dummy variable—predict a Republican gain of 38 seats, half due to the small number of Republican seats prior to the election and half due to the fact that 2010 is a Democratic midterm year. According to this model, the main reasons that Democrats are likely to experience significant losses in 2010 are the normal tendency of voters to turn against the president’s party in midterm elections regardless of the national political environment and the fact that after gaining more than 50 seats in the past two elections, they are defending a large number of seats, many in Republican-leaning districts. [Emphasis mine.]
Based on the latest readings on net presidential approval (approximately +5) and the generic ballot (tied), the national political environment is fairly neutral at the moment. Even under what might be considered a best-case scenario for Democrats, if President Obama’s net approval rating were to improve from a +5 to a +20, and Democrats were to regain a 10 point lead on the generic ballot, Democrats would still be expected to lose about 20 seats in the House.
One wonders if this could actually be a good thing for the Democratic legislative agenda. Say the losses are entirely among Blue Dogs, and the remaining members of the caucus prove to be more reliable votes on a wide variety of measures. The Democrats could offer more robustly progressive legislation without fearing the consequences in marginal seats. The problem with this analysis is that one could easily imagine Democratic members in the seats the new tier of marginal seats growing skittish, so perhaps not.
On the other hand, under what might be considered a worst case scenario for Democrats, if President Obama’s net approval rating was to fall from a +5 to a -20 and Republicans were to gain a 10 point lead on the generic ballot, Democratic losses would be expected to reach 54 seats in the House. So while the national political environment will clearly have an impact on the outcome of the House elections, under any plausible set of circumstances Democrats are likely to lose a substantial number of seats in November due to structural features that are already set.
This is telling — the worst-case scenario sounds incredibly and implausibly grim, yet it just brings us back to 2006.