GOP Maintains Strong House Majority
The drama Tuesday night surrounded Donald Trump’s shocking upset of Hillary Clinton, but House race results also proved heartening to Republicans, as the party kept its solid hold on the lower chamber. Combined with minimal losses in the Senate, Trump will likely take office with a Republican Congress behind him.
Though not all results were in by early Wednesday morning, Democrats peeled off, on net, only seven seats from Republicans’ massive 59-seat majority. Republicans picked up seats in Florida’s 18th District and 2nd District, held a number of swing districts and lost nine seats to Democrats. Democrats picked up three Florida districts (the 7th, 10th and 13th), two Nevada districts (the 3rd and the 4th) as well as New Jersey’s 5th District, New Hampshire’s 1st, Virginia’s 4th and Illinois’s 10th.
Some of the outcomes were shaped by the particularities of that race, but most of the outcomes were influenced by broader political realities.
For example, many Republican candidates benefited from incumbency and the ability to craft their own brand, apart from the controversial man at the top of their ticket. In Florida’s 26th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo opposed Trump and won in a heavily Hispanic district. (Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration harmed him significantly with Latinos, whom he lost by a wide margin nationally.) In VA-10, Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock was also able to distance herself from Trump and win in a district with a high concentration of college-educated white voters in the northern part of the state, which has trended Democratic.
Other Republican incumbents were not so fortunate. In Illinois’s 10th District, Republican Rep. Robert Dold lost to Democrat Brad Schneider by four percentage points.
Another key factor for the GOP: A favorable map. While both parties have ways to build coalitions that can win a national election, reliably Democratic voters are concentrated in a relatively small number of congressional districts. Many of these districts encompass all or parts of urban areas where many black or Hispanic voters (traditional Democratic constituencies) live. Republicans, on the other hand, are often more evenly spread out and can thus more efficiently pick up winner-take-all districts. The exact genesis of this advantage (whether it’s due to gerrymandering, a general clustering of Democrats in cities or a mix of the two) is hotly debated in academic circles, but the result is the same -- the map gave Republicans an advantage.
Third, Trump’s specific appeal shaped some of these results. In New York’s 22nd District -- home to a significant number of white voters without a college degree -- Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney defeated Democrat Kim Myers by six points. John McCain and Mitt Romney both carried this district, but they did so by less than a point. It’s possible that Trump’s appeal to these voters helped Tenney win by a larger margin.
As for what lies ahead in the House, that’s complicated. Any speaker would be happy to inherit a large majority, but Paul Ryan may have to tread carefully in dealing with a Trump administration, just as he tread carefully with Trump’s candidacy. Ryan put distance between himself and nominee throughout the general election campaign, and they differ significantly both in their policies and priorities. Ryan already faces routine conflicts with the conservative Freedom Caucus, and potential conflicts with Trump would add to his challenges.