Essentially, that they’re not really all that, well, volatile. Here’s a partisan breakdown of what RCP considers to be the most at-risk House and Senate races:
RCP also ranks this year’s gubernatorial elections, but there are only eleven of them anyway (thus making a Top Ten list kind of meaningless). So, let’s look at the Congressional results:
- The House. If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that RCP essentially estimates that both parties are about equally likely to lose seats: the Democrats have a measly one seat edge in that regard. But there’s another way to look at the situation, and that’s by looking at the open seats. Open seats are often volatile: for example, in 2010 the GOP picked up thirteen of the seventeen open Democratic seats. So… there are twelve open seats on RCP’s list, and of those the Republicans are the one with the one seat edge. Which pretty much says the same thing, only from a different angle; essentially, that at this time there’s not likely to be all that much movement in the House in November. Which is another way of saying: House Democrats are in deep, deep trouble. The DCCC needs a fourth wave election in a row, and it’s not looking like they’re getting one.
- The Senate. This one is a little more subtle. If you simply look at the top ten Senate races deemed most likely to flip then you might conclude that the GOP can expect results somewhere between ‘reasonable gains’ and ‘taking the Senate back:’ there are seven Democrats on the list, with three Republicans*. Two things to consider here, though: first off, the situation gets significantly worse for Democrats when you look at the top fifteen races (eleven Democrats, four Republicans). Second, there are eight open seats on the Senate list (including Olympia Snowe’s), and the split is decidedly lopsided in the Republicans’ favor (defending two seats, as opposed to the Democrats’ eight). This ratio holds even among the top ten Senate races (one open Republican seat, four Democratic ones). So at this time it looks like the GOP will be picking up the seats it needs to control the Senate in 2012; or at worst having a 50/50 split that can be broken by a Republican VP**.
As I wrote at the beginning, none of this is particularly volatile: conventional wisdom had been expecting Republican gains in the Senate and no fourth wave election in the House for some time, and it doesn’t look like conventional wisdom is going to be embarrassed by the actual results this go-round. But it’s important to note that the Democrats need the results to be volatile. Because it’s almost June, and if the Democrats want to be in control of Congress next cycle then they need it to be increasingly obvious by now that that’s going to happen.
Bottom line: don’t be complaisant, but do keep objective reality in mind.
*Personally, based on the top ten I’m betting the latter. Snowe’s open seat in ME is most at risk, but Brown’s likely opponent in MA is melting down and Heller in NV is likely to benefit to Romney keeping it close in that state (assuming that Romney simply doesn’t win NV outright).
**That’s another post.