by Chris Cillizza, CNN
Everyone – and I mean everyone – in the political world is looking for ways to figure out what is happening out in the country right now.
Going into this summer, 2022 looked like a typical midterm election cycle – President Joe Biden was deeply unpopular, Republicans were revved up to vote and it appeared as though Democrats were headed for major losses in the House and a loss of their Senate majority too.
Then came the curve ball. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade appears to have effectively reset the midterm dynamic. Suddenly, Democrats are resurgent, Biden’s numbers are improving and even Republicans are admitting that the ground has shifted beneath their feet.
So, where the heck are we right now?
The best way to answer that – to my mind, at least – is to look at the generic ballot question. This is a question that pollsters have been asking for a very long time and that has been, generally speaking, a very reliable weather vane to tell you which way the way the political winds are blowing.
The question goes something like this: “If the election were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for House in your district.” See, generic.
And, of late, we’ve had several national polls that have asked the question.
A Fox News poll released Wednesday showed Democrats at 44% and Republicans at 41% among registered voters nationally. A recent NPR/Marist poll of registered voters showed something very similar: Democrats 48%, Republicans 44%.
But how do those percentages translate to actual seats won and lost by the two parties this November?
“If you look at how the generic ballot correlated with past seat swings in the House, a small Democratic edge like this would produce a very modest swing to the Republicans and something close to a tie in terms of control,” said Daron Shaw, a GOP pollster who conducts the Fox News survey with Democrat Chris Anderson. “We’re still nine weeks out and a lot can change, but results like this indicate we could be in for another long election.”
Let’s look back at the history of generic ballot polling results among registered voters and how they correlated to House seat gains in recent elections.
In October 2018, in some of the last polls before the election, here’s what the generic ballot looked like:
Fox: D 47%, R 40% (D+7)
NPR: D 50%, R 40% (D+10)
CNN: D 51%, R 42% (D+9)
Democrats won a net of 40 seats.
In October 2014, the generic ballot stood here:
Fox: D 45%, R 43% (D+2)
CNN: D 49%, R 43% (D+6)
(NPR’s last poll of registered voters that year on the generic ballot was in August.)
Republicans won a net of 13 seats.
In October 2010, the generic ballot went this way:
Fox: D 39%, R 46% (R+7)
CNN: D 43%, R 49% (R+6)
Republicans won a net of 63 seats.
What do those numbers tell us? Well, first off that we are not likely headed to a blowout election on either side. Large seat changes seem directly correlated to a) a Democratic lead on the generic ballot of high single-digits or low double-digits or b) a Republican edge of mid-to-high single-digits. We don’t see either of those scenarios just yet.
(Sidebar: We are in mid-September, not mid-October – meaning that things could, of course, change between now and then. Typically, however, major changes this late in an election cycle are rare and almost wholly dependent on a major outside event.)
Of course, it’s also important to note that Republicans don’t need a wave election to win back control on the House. They only need a pickup of five seats. Which might make the 2014 election, which took place during President Barack Obama’s second term, the best comp to this coming 2022 election. Democrats went into that vote with a small single-digit edge over Republicans in the generic ballot, but the GOP wound up gaining 13 seats. Such a gain would put Republicans back in charge of the House – albeit with a very small governing majority.
Chris Cillizza is a CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large, covering national politics including the White House, Congress and every district they represent. His reporting lives under the brand, “The Point with Chris Cillizza,” and includes a nightly newsletter and weekday Amazon Echo and Google Home flash briefings.