Is Republican control of the House in jeopardy?

Last night, I wrote:

Before the threat of a partial shutdown became apparent, few were talking about the Republicans losing the House. Now, we’re hearing such talk, backed up by at least some evidence.

The evidence I cited was a PPP poll of 24 House districts taken after the partial shutdown began. It found that registered voters in 17 of those districts favored a generic Democratic challenger over the incumbent Republican. Democrats need to pick up 17 seats in the 2014 election to take control of the House.

To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that such a takeover is likely; only that it has become “thinkable.” Has it?

PPP is a partisan operation. As Jim Geraghty notes, citing Stuart Rothenberg, its surveys often are intended to boost Democratic recruiting, fundraising or prospects. This poll reportedly was commissioned by MoveOn.org. In all likelihood, its purpose was to create a helpful narrative about the political repercussions of the shutdown and the nature of the midterms.

This doesn’t mean that the PPP poll necessarily is wrong or dishonest. But there are issues with it. As Rothenberg points out:

The “polls” did not include head-to-head ballot tests of likely nominees (even though the surveys could have included candidate names in many contests), but instead relied on a messy question that was part “re-elect” and part “generic ballot.” The results are of little or no use because that is not the choice voters will face on Election Day.

Moreover, at least five of the 17 Republicans who are “losing” either have no serious opposition or have less-than-top-tier opponents at this point: Steve King (Iowa’s 4th District), Andy Barr (Kentucky’s 6th), Kerry Bentivolio (Michigan’s 11th), Patrick Meehan (Pennsylvania’s 7th) and Sean P. Duffy (Wisconsin’s 7th). Bentivolio may not survive a GOP primary.

To be fair, polling performed more than a year before the election that tests the strength of an incumbent against generic opposition doesn’t strike me as entirely out-of-line. Republican commentators frequently make much of the fact that a Democratic incumbent can’t get to 50 percent support, even if the incumbent is outpacing possible rivals or no such rivals have yet emerged.

However, the PPP poll was prefaced with the claim that the incumbent House Republican is responsible for the shutdown. To be sure, a majority of voters hold congressional Republicans primarily responsible for the shutdown right now. But this view is hardly axiomatic or universal. Even a Daily Kos writer had to acknowledge that the PPP poll assumes

an ideal environment where one side is able to widely disseminate its preferred message, without pushback or interference from the other side. In other words, a scenario nothing like what you encounter in the real world.

That said, though, these polls show that hammering Republicans over the shutdown has the potential to be effective across a very diverse array of districts.

I conclude that the partial shutdown has made a change in control of the House thinkable, but not likely. The impact of additional jolts of this nature cannot be predicted. But since Republicans still have the upper hand, Democrats have more to gain politically, when it comes to the House anyway, from new jolts.

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