Focus on Core Issues Bolsters Democrats Odds of Holding House Majority, Analysis Finds

October 15, 2019 by Dan McCue
Inside the U.S. Capitol rotunda. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – If Democrats want to hold their majority in House in 2020 they’ll focus on core issues important to their constituents like protecting healthcare coverage, fighting corruption, and expanding economic opportunity, according to a new analysis by Third Way, the public policy think tank.

In the 2018 midterm elections, 43 Democrats picked up House districts previously held by Republicans to deliver a 235 seat House majority.

As the 2020 election cycle begins, writes David de la Fuente, Third Way’s senior political analyst, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has 44 House Democrats in their Frontline Program designed to protect vulnerable incumbents.

This suggests, de la Fuente said, that 191 districts could be considered safe or “easy holds” at this point in the election cycle.

Looking Back

In 2016, these 44 districts gave Hillary Clinton an average of 46% of their vote. By contrast, the 191 safe Democratic districts gave Clinton an average of 65%.

According to Third Way, the Frontline members are concentrated in competitive areas where swing voters decide elections. Most of the other House Democrats can easily win with only voters who routinely, if not exclusively, vote Democratic up-and-down the ballot.

This reality is made even starker when you look at the fact that 37 of the 44 (84%) Frontline members won their elections by single digits in 2018 compared to only 3 of the other 191 (2%) House Democrats.

“To win in the Frontline districts, members need to appeal to a broad coalition of voters—including those who sometimes vote Republican,” de la Fuente writes.

Geography

While the Democratic caucus represents a mixture of urban, suburban, and rural areas, it excels in cities with robust population density.

The safe blue districts have an average population density of 4,973 people per square mile, Third Way says.

The Frontline members represent districts that have an average population density of 1,193 people per square mile, with many of them representing more suburban areas. Only one Frontline member — Rep. Max Rose of Staten Island, N.Y. — represents a district more urban than the average non-Frontline House Democrat.

The median safe House district in terms of geographic size is 1st Congressional District in New Jersey, represented by Donald Norcross, which has 2,111 people per square mile; the median Frontline districts are the 14th Congressional District in Illinois and the 25th Congressional District in California, represented by Lauren Underwood and Katie Hill, and have 456 and 426 people per square mile respectively.

Race / Ethnicity

The Frontline members represent districts that have a similar racial breakdown to the national average—about 66% non-Hispanic white.

Ten of the 44 Frontline members represent districts that are majority people of color. The safe blue seats look very different; on average, they are about 48% non-Hispanic white, meaning, people of color are a majority of their constituents.

“Frontline members are heavily reliant on both people of color and white voters to win. In many of these districts, the majority of Democratic voters will still be people of color, but they need to appeal to a significant number of white voters as well to deliver a Democratic victory,” de la Fuente writes.

Educational Attainment

Frontline districts tend to have an ever-so-slightly higher educational attainment than the rest of the House Democratic districts, but this is less stark than some of the other differences above, the Third Way analysis finds.

In Frontline districts, about 36% of constituents have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. This compares to 34% in the rest of the Democratic districts around the country.

There are 19 safe districts (10%) that have a majority of residents who have a bachelor’s degree, but there are also 48 safe districts (25%) where less than a quarter of residents hold a bachelor’s degree which shows safe districts get pulled to extreme ends.

There are six Frontline districts (14%) that have a majority of residents who have a bachelor’s degree, and seven (16%) where less than a quarter of residents hold a bachelor’s degree, providing more symmetry.

Economics

Frontline members represent areas with higher incomes but lower home values than the universe of safe blue seats. The Frontline districts have a median income of $68,000 and a median house value of $268,000.

This compares to the rest of the caucus that has a median income of $59,000 and a median house value of $292,000 (the latter likely driven up by the fact that many of these districts are urban where housing prices are higher).

“These differences aren’t necessarily massive, but the fact that they are pulling in different directions helps explain why the electorally-vulnerable Frontline members may have a slightly different perspective than the rest of the caucus on certain economic issues,” de la Fuente writes.

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