Could Democrats Steal Paul Ryan’s Seat?

The outgoing speaker’s district will be in play this November.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he would won’t be seeking re-election in 2018. That will leave Ryan’s House seat in Wisconsin’s 1st District open. And while it’s not the most vulnerable seat the GOP has to defend in 2018, it’s far from safe.

paul ryan simple graphic.jpg

 This graphic (data is from Daily Kos Elections) shows Trump’s 2016 margin of victory in every currently Republican-held House district as well as the difference between Trump’s margin and Romney’s margin in each district. Wisconsin’s 1st District is highlighted.

Ryan’s district might not be competitive if the national environment was neutral. Wisconsin’s 1st District moved right in the 2016 election. Trump won the district by 10 points after Romney took it only by four points in 2012 (though 2012 may be an odd case because Ryan was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee). And in 2008, Barack Obama won the area by about three points while winning the national popular vote by seven, suggesting that it took a real step to the right over the course of the last four to eight years. If you add that to Ryan’s incumbency advantage, you get a district that would’t typically be near the boottom of the GOP’s list of worries.

But the national environment isn’t neutral. Democrats currently lead by 7.3 points in the RealClearPolitics generic ballot poll average (which aggregates surveys that basically ask a national sample of voters who they’re going to vote for in the upcoming House elections), and Trump’s approval rating is historically low. Republicans have also underperformed Trump’s margin by double digits on average in legislative special elections. So Democrats are likely going to be able to reach into less-than-friendly territory and grab some right-leaning districts like Ryan’s.

Some of the GOP’s broader problems might also show up in Wisconsin’s 1st District. In major elections in 2017, turnout was down in some less educated GOP areas. Moreover, there’s some evidence (though it’s not perfect) that the GOP has been performing worse (relative to 2016) in areas where Trump outperformed Romney. The graphic showed that Wisconsin’s 1st District moved right between 2012 and 2016. Moreover it’s whiter than the median congressional district and the rate of college education among whites there is lower than in the median congressional district.



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