One of the “rules” of American politics is that the party that doesn’t control the White House will pick up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives during the midterm election. Considering that Democrats hold the White House and only a slim 222-to-213-seat edge in the House,class=”footnote-text”> Republicans appear to have a straightforward path to retaking Congress’s lower chamber. Indeed, FiveThirtyEight’s midterm forecast gives Republicans about a 7-in-10 shot of claiming a majority, as of Oct. 5, 2022, at 8:20 PM.
But knowing exactly which districts Republicans might swing is harder to say with certainty. The GOP’s path to a majority mostly runs through districts represented by Democrats but whose historic voting patterns suggest they are highly competitive or lean at least a bit to the right. Republicans also hope to pick up a handful of bluer seats, as the party not in the White House sometimes captures “reach” seats in midterms. But a 7-in-10 chance is nowhere near a guarantee for Republicans: Democrats’ hopes of retaining the House rest on swinging a handful of GOP-held seats and holding onto the same competitive seats the Republicans are targeting.
The map below shows the House seats that are most vulnerable to swinging from one party to the other based on our forecast.
Which districts could flip parties?
Each party’s chances to flip every House seat
With the help of data from midterm elections between 1998 and 2018, we’ve identified the types of districts that have historically swung between parties and grouped them into four clusters based on the incumbent party and the district’s partisan lean.class=”footnote-text”> Three groups consist of districts that Republicans could flip: conservative-leaning districts currently held by a Democrat, competitive “purpley” districts currently held by a Democrat, and liberal-leaning districts held by a Democrat. The fourth and final group consists of all districts currently held by Republicans that Democrats could flip. Now, due to redistricting, there’s also an additional fifth group because 20 districts either don’t have an incumbent party or have two incumbents running. We don’t map out those seats, but we do briefly discuss them at the end.class=”footnote-text”> But as for the other 415 seats, we can examine how much they matter to each party’s majority-making hopes in the maps below.
First up, we have 11 seats that should offer the easiest pickup opportunities for the Republicans: districts currently represented by a Democrat but vote at least 5 points more Republican than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric. In the six midterm elections held between 1998 to 2018, the party in the GOP’s position – that is, the party not in the White House – has managed to swing almost 3-in-5 seats that leaned toward it but were held by the president’s party. The most notable result was in 2010, when Republicans gained 63 seats overall, around two-thirds of which were red-leaning districts held by Democrats. The good news for Democrats in 2022 is that, compared with 2010, they don’t have nearly as much red turf to defend. But Republicans only need to flip five net seats to capture the House, and they could win at least that many from this category alone.
Which conservative districts could Republicans flip?
Republicans’ chances to flip House seats that have a more conservative partisan lean (≥R+5) and are currently held by a Democrat
Unlike 2010, this midterm will take place under new district lines, and many of the seats Republicans have the best chance of swinging have changed significantly due to redistricting. Florida’s GOP-drawn map transformed the 7th and 13th districts from highly competitive to clearly Republican-leaning, while Tennessee Republicans transformed the Nashville-based 5th District into a red bastion. These changes weren’t all due to partisan mapmaking, though. Arizona’s new map, drawn by the state’s independent redistricting commission, improved Republicans’ chances in both the 2nd and 6th districts, turning former swing seats into red-leaning districts. Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran is mounting a defense in Arizona’s 2nd, which has helped Democrats’ chances there as incumbents still get at least a small boost. No Democratic incumbents are defending the five seats that are likeliest to flip, which only helps the GOP’s odds.
Some other red-leaning districts controlled by Democrats didn’t change much in redistricting, but they are also in the GOP’s sights as longer-term trends continue to reshape their political preferences. Wisconsin’s 3rd District has been drifting to the right in the past decade, and longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind retired, making it a prime Republican target. Democratic incumbents are seeking reelection in Maine’s 2nd District and Pennsylvania’s 8th District, but northern Maine and northeast Pennsylvania have swung right in the Trump era.
But no other seats look more like toss-ups than the 24 Democratic-held districts that have a partisan lean between D+5 and R+5. After all, during midterms from 1998 to 2018, the party in the GOP’s position flipped nearly one-third of seats like this held by the president’s party. Of these two dozen races, 13 involve Democrats defending seats they first won during the 2018 blue wave, but this year, Republicans may end some of their tenures in Congress.
Which purpley districts could Republicans flip?
Republicans’ chances to flip House seats that have a competitive partisan lean (D+5 to R+5) and are currently held by a Democrat
At the top of that endangered list is Rep. Tom Malinowski in New Jersey’s 7th District. In redistricting, New Jersey’s bipartisan commission picked the Democratic-drawn map, which worked to protect all potentially vulnerable Democrats save Malinowski, whose light blue seat became light red.class=”footnote-text”> In addition to Malinowski, three other Democrats first elected in 2018 are caught in toss-up races of their own for seats that now lean a hair to the right after redistricting: Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa, Sharice Davids of Kansas and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.
Republicans also have a chance of swinging some open seats in this cluster. Perhaps most notably, Oregon’s 5th District could prove to be a self-defeating moment for Democratic primary voters: They ousted longtime centrist Rep. Kurt Schrader and backed progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner in this D+3 seat, which has potentially boosted the chances of Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer. Over in Illinois, Democrats in the state legislature drew the state’s 17th District to be somewhat bluer in redistricting, but western Illinois has been trending to the right, and Republican Esther Joy King could find victory after narrowly losing in 2020 to now-retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos. Additionally, Democratic Reps. Conor Lamb and Tom Suozzi left behind Pennsylvania’s 17th District and New York’s 3rd District to pursue failed statewide bids, respectively, which will potentially aid Republicans’ chances of capturing those seats.
The remaining seats involve incumbents who are currently favored but far from shoo-ins, especially if the political environment becomes more favorable to Republicans in the final month of the campaign, which we may see some nascent signs of based on recent polling and economic news.
Next, we turn to the 178 seats Democrats are defending that vote at least 5 points more Democratic than the country as a whole. Most of these districts will not be in play in 2022, especially considering the president’s party won 96 percent of districts like this between 1998 and 2018. Still, a shift to the right in the political environment could open the door for the GOP in some of the blue-but-not-deep-blue seats in this category. For instance, in both 2006 and 2018, Democrats managed to flip 18 seats that were R+5 or redder while a Republican president was in office.
Which liberal districts could Republicans flip?
Republicans’ chances to flip House seats that have a more liberal partisan lean (≥D+5) and are currently held by a Democrat
Nonetheless, our forecast is currently bearish on the GOP’s odds of swinging some of these districts. If the GOP is going to capture some of these “reach” seats, their best shot may come in a seat like Nevada’s 4th District, a D+5 seat defended by Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, whom Republican Sam Peters could best with an assist from the political environment and perhaps lingering negativity toward Horsford over revelations of a past extramarital affair that came to light in 2020. Republicans have also made a play for Rhode Island’s 2nd District, a D+16 seat left open by retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin. Republican Allan Fung is well-funded and nearly won the Ocean State’s governorship in 2014, but he faces an uphill battle against Democrat Seth Magaziner, the state’s General Treasurer.
The last cluster of districts are the 202 seats Republicans are defending, which history suggests won’t be easy for Democrats to swing in their direction: In the six midterms from 1998 to 2018, the White House party flipped just 2 percent of the districts defended by their opponent, regardless of their partisan lean. However, the political environment following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has proven to be less advantageous for the GOP than we might’ve otherwise expected, given historical midterm patterns. This, in combination with redistricting and the candidates chosen by some Republican primary voters, has opened the door for Democrats to make a play for a handful of seats Republicans are defending this November.
Which districts could Democrats flip?
Democrats’ chances to flip every House seat currently held by a Republican
Most notably, Democrats have a decent chance of flipping Michigan’s 3rd District, where Democrat Hillary Scholten is slightly favored over Republican John Gibbs. Before August, Republican Rep. Peter Meijer was a good bet to hold onto the seat, which became slightly Democratic-leaning under the new lines drawn by Michigan’s independent redistricting commission. But Meijer lost to Gibbs in the Aug. 2 GOP primary, as Gibbs gained former President Donald Trump’s endorsement after Meijer voted to impeach him in 2021. Similarly, Democrats may be able to make a play for New York’s 22nd District. Moderate Republican Rep. John Katko retired after voting to impeach Trump, and Republican primary voters in the Syracuse-area seat opted for the Trumpier and less well-funded Brandon Williams instead of the national GOP’s preferred candidate in what our forecast views as a race leaning slightly toward Republicans.
Redistricting also played a role in the competitiveness of three Republican-held toss-up seats Democrats hope to flip. In California, the state’s independent redistricting commission placed Republican Reps. David Valadao and Mike Garcia in seats that were somewhat bluer than the ones they currently hold, while New Mexico Democrats drew GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell’s district to be highly competitive so that they might unseat her.
We’ve covered 415 of the House’s 435 seats here, but the remaining 20 districts don’t have an incumbent party, 18 because they are newly drawn or because an incumbent who might’ve run there decided to run in a nearby seat instead, and two others because they feature a general election showdown between a Democratic and Republican incumbent. Overall, 11 of these districts favor the GOP to some extent, seven favor Democrats and two are essentially toss-ups. So this, too, is a marginally beneficial category for Republicans, although it’s harder to say how these compare in a modern midterm context because the only other midterm since 1998 to come after decennial redistricting was in 2002, a sample size of one.
The four main categories of seats show where we might expect districts to swing this November. Republicans will be best positioned to challenge for the House majority thanks to the competitive seats and Republican-leaning seats held by Democrats. Democrats in turn will hope to flip a few GOP-controlled districts at the margins, prevent Republicans from grabbing hold of more Democratic-leaning seats and retain as many of those highly competitive districts as they can. History is on the GOP’s side, but the 2022 story still has to be written.