Political Insiders See Senate Twice as Likely to Flip as House

December 09, 2013, 5:01 PM GMT+0

It's likely that the battle for the Senate is going to overshadow the contest for the House.

Political Insiders were almost twice as likely to believe that Republicans will capture the Senate in the 2014 midterms, as Democrats will win back the House of Representatives. This is one of the key findings of a YouGov survey of almost 200 political elites—campaign consultants, party strategists, operatives and lobbyists—conducted in late November.

On a scale of zero (no chance) to 10 (virtual certainty) the average Insiders’ rating for a GOP Senate victory was 4.9 while their odds on a Democratic House takeover was 2.5. For the partisan breakdowns on those two questions, see below:

GOP takes over the Senate: Republican Insiders, 5.4; Democratic Insiders, 4.2. Democrats take over the House: Republican Insiders, 1.8; Democratic Insiders, 3.6.

So nearly a year out from the election, what do these numbers tell us? It’s likely that the battle for the Senate is going to overshadow the contest for the House. Compared to previous midterm campaigns at a relatively early stage in the election cycle, the political elites in both parties already perceive a very competitive struggle for control of the Senate in 2014.

For instance, when the same question was asked in the 2006 midterm elections (the last time the Senate turned over), Democratic Insiders never gave their party better than a 50-50 chance of winning the Senate until mid-October, just weeks before Election Day. Back in February of that year, Democratic Insiders, on average, rated their chances of capturing the majority at 4.3, while Republican Insiders put the odds of a Democratic takeover at only 2.9.

In February of 2006, Insiders in both parties believed that Democrats were much more likely to take over the House: Democratic Insiders thought it was an even money bet rating their chances at exactly 5.0 on a 0-to-10 scale, while Republican Insiders put those chances at 3.5.

What we see today is that operatives and strategists in both parties are on alert, relatively early in a midterm cycle, that the Senate could change hands. The consequences of this dynamic could be that the campaign contributions and SuperPac resources in both parties could be directed towards helping their respective Senate candidates, perhaps at the expense of some House candidates. To be sure, Democratic and Republican House incumbents probably won’t be lacking for funds and loyal donors to the leaderships of both parties will still continue to give generously. And combatants in the most competitive House races won’t be starving for cash. But with these early expectations set, it’s possible that the marginal donation or the marginal SuperPac expenditure could find an easier path to a Senate campaign than a House contest.

And Senate Democrats now have a new pitch to make to prospective contributors: With the change in the filibuster rules so executive branch and judicial (below Supreme Court level) nominees no longer need 60 votes to assure confirmation, Harry Reid and his allies can make a plausible case to donors that maintaining the Democratic majority in the Senate is perhaps the best way to protect and extend the Obama presidency in a time of gridlock on Capitol Hill—at least for the final two years of his term.

But you have to take these early electoral assessments with a grain of salt: sometimes even political Insiders can’t foretell the future this far out. In September 2009, Democratic Insiders (on average) put the odds of a GOP House takeover in 2010 at 2.1 and Republican Insiders put their chances at 3.1. Moreover, back in 2009, only 5% of the Democratic Insiders surveyed and only 1% of the GOP Insiders gave a rating of 7-to-10 for a GOP House victory. In this survey, only 5% of Democratic Insiders and only 1% of Republican Insiders give a rating of 7-to-10 for a Democratic takeover of the House in 2014.

-- James A. Barnes

James A. Barnes is a veteran Washington journalist who created the National Journal Political Insiders Poll and conducted elite surveys for CNN during the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest. The YouGov Political Insiders Survey is comprised of interviews with leading players in political and policy campaigns in Washington D.C. and around the country.

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