2016 House Overview: Waiting for a Wave

by Nathan L. Gonzales July 14, 2016 · 1:00 PM EDT

Donald Trump is supposed to be an anvil around the neck of Republican candidates down the ballot and around the country, but up to this point in the cycle, vulnerable GOP incumbents are holding their own. 

Democrats believe every Republican agrees with Trump and must publicly rebuke everything he has ever said or risk a backlash on Election Day. But voters have not yet punished Republican incumbents for Trump’s sins. Democrats must litigate that case over the next four months.

Polling thus far often shows Trump struggling in competitive districts in the presidential race while GOP incumbents are leading their own re-election fights.

As we said three months ago, it’s not difficult to see Democrats gaining 10-20 House seats in November in this environment. But picking up 10 more seats necessary for a majority is considerably harder and would require a wave to pull unknown and underfinanced Democratic challengers across the finish line. And Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity could limit her party’s gains.

Of course, if an electoral wave develops nationally, the House might be the last place it is felt. 

For example, in 2006, when Democrats gained 31 seats and took over the House majority, Republican incumbents such as Clay Shaw of Florida, Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Ann Northup of Kentucky, John Sweeney of New York, Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, and others, were still leading their races in late August and early September before the bottom dropped out and they all lost.

Obviously, the 2006 and 2016 cycles are not identical, considering the Mark Foley scandal accelerated the decline of the Republicans that year and 2006 was a midterm election with an unpopular Republican in the White House. But it’s an important reminder that the House outlook can change quickly.  

We’re moving a couple more seats out of Safe from the Republican column as an acknowledgement of Trump’s potential to plummet in the suburbs (Minnesota’s 3rd District) or because of candidate-specific dynamics (Indiana’s 9th District) and not as specific signs of a wave. 

Now that the presidential nominating contests are over, both parties are currently polling dozens of House races across the country. We’ll have a better idea of the breadth of the battleground and starting point for these races in the next couple of weeks.