Ever since the con­clu­sion of vote-count­ing in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the num­ber sev­en­teen has tak­en on a spe­cial mean­ing to Democrats.

That’s the num­ber of seats Democ­rats need to win next year to get back the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and rel­e­gate the Tea Par­ty extrem­ists who con­trol the House Repub­li­can cau­cus to true minor­i­ty status.

Win­ning that many seats would be a tall order, but it is not impos­si­ble or unfea­si­ble. After all, Democ­rats won thir­ty one seats with good can­di­date recruit­ment and favor­able elec­toral head­winds just sev­en years ago.

A new set of polls con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for MoveOn.org and released this evening finds that if an elec­tion were held today, a major­i­ty of vot­ers in sev­en­teen dis­tricts held by Repub­li­cans would vote for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date. Here’s Jim Williams of Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling on the findings:

The sur­veys, com­mis­sioned and paid for by MoveOn.org Polit­i­cal Action, show Repub­li­can incum­bents behind among reg­is­tered vot­ers in head-to-head con­tests with gener­ic Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lengers in 17 dis­tricts. In four oth­er dis­tricts, the incum­bent Repub­li­can falls behind a gener­ic Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date after respon­dents are told that the Repub­li­can incum­bent sup­port­ed the gov­ern­ment shutdown.

In only three dis­tricts do Repub­li­can incum­bents best gener­ic Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lengers after vot­ers are told the incum­bent sup­port­ed the gov­ern­ment shutdown.

Democ­rats must pick up 17 seats to win con­trol of the House. These poll results make clear that if the elec­tion were held today, such a pick­up would be well with­in reach.

This is big news. Grant­ed, the elec­tion is not being held today, and the polls com­mis­sioned by MoveOn did not test head to head matchups. But it sug­gests the Repub­li­can Par­ty is in greater dan­ger of los­ing the House than either its oper­a­tives or well known polit­i­cal prog­nos­ti­ca­tors have been will­ing to admit.

The sev­en­teen dis­tricts are most­ly slices of the fol­low­ing blue states: Cal­i­for­nia, Col­orado, New York, Flori­da, Iowa, Illi­nois, Michi­gan, Neva­da, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, Vir­gina, and Wis­con­sin. There’s also one Ken­tucky dis­trict in the mix.

The spe­cif­ic dis­tricts are CA-31, CO-06, FL-02, FL-10, FL-13, IA-03, IA-04, IL-13, KY-06, MI-01, MI-07, MI-11, NY-19, OH-14, PA-07, PA-08, and WI-07.

I’ve been unable to fath­om why Democ­rats have not been aggres­sive­ly pro­mot­ing the idea that they could retake the U.S. House in 2014. They cer­tain­ly need to start doing so now. Democ­rats do not need Repub­li­cans to self-destruct in order to win, as we saw last year, and they should not act as though they do.

Yes, ger­ry­man­der­ing has made the House tougher to con­test. Yes, incum­bents tend to get reelect­ed. Yes, Repub­li­cans will not go down with­out a fight.

But that does­n’t mean recap­tur­ing the House is impos­si­ble. It is very pos­si­ble, but only if Democ­rats believe it to be. Pro­gres­sive activists who are sick and tired of Repub­li­can obstruc­tion hurt­ing this coun­try have every rea­son to want to make a big Demo­c­ra­t­ic vic­to­ry a real­i­ty in 2014. Think of all the issues Amer­i­ca is unable to make any progress on due to the House being held by Republicans.

The U.S. House has flipped back and forth before. Con­sid­er the elec­toral his­to­ry of the late 1940s and ear­ly 1950s, fol­low­ing the death of Pres­i­dent Roosevelt.

In 1946, Pres­i­dent Tru­man’s first midterm elec­tion, Democ­rats were sound­ly beat­en in House elec­tions, after hav­ing been in con­trol for more than a decade. In fact, that might even be an under­state­ment: A total of fifty-five seats went to the Repub­li­cans, the Democ­rats’ largest defeat since 1908. It was a without.

Despite los­ing bad­ly, the Democ­rats were able to ful­ly reverse the dam­age in just two years, win­ning sev­en­ty-five seats in 1948 to recap­ture the House.

They held it in 1950, despite los­ing twen­ty-eight seats.

In 1952, con­trol of the House flipped back to the Repub­li­cans when Ray­burn and his cau­cus lost a fur­ther twen­ty-two seats. But they took nine­teen seats back in the fol­low­ing 1954 midterms, trad­ing places in the House with the Repub­li­cans for a third time. After that, they held the major­i­ty for forty years.

We live in a dif­fer­ent time now, but by study­ing Amer­i­can polit­i­cal his­to­ry, we can see that it is not unprece­dent­ed for the two major par­ties to repeat­ed­ly trade con­trol of the House sev­er­al times with­in the span of a decade.

The Democ­rats lost the House under Tru­man and got it back; they lost it again when Eisen­how­er was elect­ed, but then they got it back.

In 2008, Democ­rats large­ly held on to the gains made in 2006 when Oba­ma was elect­ed, but got tak­en to the wood­shed in 2010. They made up some of the lost ground in 2012. Now the ques­tion is: Can they fin­ish the job and get the House back in 2014? My answer: Absolute­ly. But before Democ­rats can con­vince vot­ers in key dis­tricts across the coun­try to elect Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates, they need to con­vince them­selves that they can win big in a midterm year.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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5 replies on “New set of polls shows Republicans could lose the U.S. House of Representatives”

  1. If only we had a more com­pe­tent DCCC chair… Steve Israel has not impressed me so far. Hope the Democ­rats don’t squan­der this opportunity.

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