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House Election 2012: Republicans Still Favored To Retain Majority

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HOUSE ELECTION 2012
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WASHINGTON -- After the Democrats lost 63 House seats to Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, it seemed likely that they would gain back some of those seats in 2012, especially since many of them were in Democratic territory.

However, two days out from Election Day, it appears that even in the best case scenario for Democrats, they are only poised to gain a net of about 10 seats, well short of the 25 they would need to take back the majority. In fact, it is possible that the composition of the House of Representatives in January will look nearly identical to how it does today.

Despite the close presidential election and the Democrats' advantage in the Senate, the GOP's House majority appears to be safe this year due in large part to the party's control over the redistricting processes in many states in 2011. Many Republican incumbents, especially those who were first elected in 2010 from swing or Democratic-leaning districts, were redrawn into safer Republican districts, insulating them from what would have otherwise been competitive reelection races. At the same time, several Democratic incumbents, especially in states like Georgia and North Carolina, were drawn into more conservative districts, making their road to reelection much more difficult.

A Huffington Post analysis of the current ratings from three respected House election handicappers shows that 233 congressional districts are either "strong" or "leaning" Republican, while 185 districts are either "strong" or "leaning" Democratic. There are 17 districts currently rated as "toss-ups," which both parties have a chance of winning.

Even if the Democrats won all 17 "toss-up" districts, they would still fall well short of the 218 seats they would need for a majority. In addition to those "toss-up" districts, they would need to win 16 of the 21 seats that are rated as "leaning Republican" to achieve a majority.

This is extremely unlikely to happen, given that Democrats do not seem to have the substantial national advantage over Republicans that they had in 2006 and 2008. Republicans currently hold a narrow 0.8 point advantage in the HuffPost Pollster estimate, which includes all available public polls, when voters are asked which party they would prefer to be in control of Congress.

In the past, it has taken at least high single-digit leads in this measure to peel off a significant number of districts that are rated as "leaning" toward the other party, as was the case in the 2010 midterm elections for the GOP.

If Democrats and Republicans win an equal number of the "toss-up" districts and both parties win all of the seats "leaning" their way, the composition of the House will be completely unchanged. If Republicans fare better than Democrats in these races -- an entirely plausible outcome -- they could even expand their 49-seat majority.

If the composition of the House were to remain stable, it would match the precedent set in the past three election years featuring an incumbent president running for reelection, regardless of the result at the top of the ticket.

In 2004, Republicans gained a net four seats in the House as President George W. Bush won a narrow victory over Sen. John Kerry.

Despite President Bill Clinton's 1996 electoral landslide victory over then-Sen. Bob Dole, Democrats only gained a net two seats in the House.

In 1992, former President George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid to then-Gov. Bill Clinton, yet his party gained 9 seats in House, mainly due to Republican gains from redistricting.

The last time either party gained at least 25 House seats in a presidential reelection year was in 1980, when former Gov. Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter by nearly 10 points in the national popular vote and carried 44 states.

It is clear that the 2012 election will not even remotely resemble 1980, with President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running neck-and-neck in the national polls and in the Electoral College. Thus, the 2012 election appears more likely to follow the trajectories of 2004, 1996 and 1992, in which the composition of the House did not change materially, leaving Republicans as the strong favorite to retain the lower chamber.

The Huffington Post assigns ratings to House races by analyzing the views of respected election handicappers -- specifically, the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

For poll numbers and detailed individual descriptions of the key House races, check out HuffPost Pollster's House Outlook page under "Seats to Watch."

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