The election environment for congressional incumbents in 2014 will be challenging, with several key public opinion indicators as negative or nearly as negative as they have been in any recent midterm election year. This includes congressional job approval, which, at 16%, is on pace to be the lowest in a midterm election year since Gallup first measured it in 1974.
In years when congressional job approval is low, there tends to be greater turnover in House membership. The prior low job approval rating in a midterm election year was 21% in 2010, a year in which 15% of House incumbents seeking re-election were defeated. In 1994, when 22% approved of Congress, 10% of incumbents lost. By comparison, just 4% of incumbents lost in 2002, when Congress enjoyed a 50% approval rating.
The potential vulnerability of congressional incumbents was clear last week, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suffered a stunning defeat in his primary election in Virginia, losing to an underfunded GOP "outsider."
If anything, Cantor's loss is the exception that proves the rule. The difference between now and 1994 is that House districts are gerrymandered in just about as many states as possible. There's no bigger example than in Ohio, a state that President Obama won by 3 points and nearly 200,000 votes, and yet 12 of 16 Ohio House Representatives are Republican, along with the GOP having 60 of 99 state House seats and 23 of 33 state Senate seats. Ohio is by that measure one of the reddest states in the country.
If you think that somehow the House is in play, you're nuts. In 2012 only 5% or so of House seats were competitive. The number may actually be less this year.
The days of one side or another picking up 60+ seats like even four years ago are ancient history now that Republicans have gerrymandered the country to within an inch of its life, and the Supreme Court is too busy calling that free speech.