BUFFALO, N.Y. -- James E. Campbell, a University at Buffalo
political scientist nationally recognized for his highly accurate
election-prediction models, says that this year the Democrats are
likely to pick up between three and 14 seats in elections for the
U.S. House of Representatives.
This prediction is from the "Seats in Trouble" forecasting
models of partisan seat change in U.S. House elections and will be
published in the October issue of PS: Political Science and
Politics. It will be available online in mid-September at: http://www.apsanet.org/PS/.
The "Seats in Trouble" forecast is based on two forecasting
equations published in 2010 by Campbell, UB Distinguished Professor
of Political Science and department chair. His models have had a
good deal of success in predicting presidential and congressional
elections since 1992.
Campbell explains that the core variable in the "Seats in
Trouble" model is calculated from competition assessments of
district races published by The Cook Political Report in August of
the election year.
"The number of seats in trouble for a political party are those
considered by the Cook Report to be toss-ups or worse for the party
currently holding the seat," he says.
"The difference between the number of each party's seats in
trouble is the critical predictor variable in my equations,"
Campbell says, adding that the equations also take into account the
number of seats each party won in the previous election and the
president's approval rating in August of the election year.
He says, "The equations proved to be quite accurate in 2010, the
first election in which it was used. In late August of 2010, the
equations predicted that Democrats would lose about 52 seats, about
the magnitude of their 1994 midterm loss and the largest seat
change since the Truman-Dewey election of 1948. Though the forecast
was short of the actual 64-seat Republican landslide, no other
early forecast was more accurate."
This year, according to the handicapping of races in late August
by The Cook Political Report, Democrats had 15 seats in trouble and
Republicans had 21.
"This six-seat difference favoring the Democrats is close to the
middle of the range of past values," Campbell says, "and since
1984, the best seat-in-trouble difference for Democrats was 27
seats in 2008 and the best for Republicans was 44 seats in
Based on the "Seats-in-Trouble" index, along with a 45 percent
approval rating for President Obama from Gallup in late August and
the 193 seats Democrats held after the 2010 midterm, Campbell says
the seats-in-trouble forecast equations indicate that Democrats are
likely to gain between three and 14 seats this year.
"The predicted gain of three seats is derived from the equation
that employs the 'Seats-in-Trouble' index along with presidential
approval. The predicted gain of 14 seats," he says, "uses the
Democratic seat base along with the 'Seats-in-Trouble' index."
Campbell says, "Based on these two equations, I think we should
expect Democrats to register small gains in the House this year.
The presidential approval version of the equation indicates
particularly small Democratic gains since the presidential election
is likely to be quite close, as reflected in President Obama's
borderline approval ratings.
"The version of the equation that takes the number of seats a
party currently holds into account indicates somewhat larger
gains," he says.
"This reflects the fact that Republicans made gains in 2010 in
areas that historically have been Democratic turf. One might expect
the gains of the 2010 Republican wave to recede to restore a few
more Democrats to the House, though it will probably not be enough
to threaten continued Republican control. Democrats would need to
pick up 25 seats for that to occur."
"The country recently saw three unusual wave elections: 2006,
when Democrats took 31 seats and control of the House; 2008, when
they extended that control, and 2010 when the Republicans picked up
63 seats and regained control.
"I think we may see a return to less volatile House elections,"
Campbell says, "elections like the 10 national congressional
elections held between 1986 and 2004, during which time only one,
in 1994, produced a double-digit change in House seats."
"I would not be surprised if the 2012 election restored that
pattern of small seat swings."