Republicans Fell Just 31,751 Votes Shy of Winning Back the U.S. House of Representatives

By Jacob Rubashkin

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Texas Insider Report) — While Joe Biden won the Electoral College and Democrats maintained control of the House of Representatives, the emerging narrative is one of Republican's resurgence and their resilience down the ballot. Republicans made unexpected gains in the House, and successfully defended all but one of their vulnerable Senate seats.

Democrats, who were projected, and had expected to pick up as many as 14 or 15 House seats, came nowhere near that mark. Moreover, the closest races of the cycle all broke decisively against Democrats, and decisively for Republicans.

A closer examination of the House results reveals just how precariously those results hung on a relative handful of votes – a fraction of a fraction of the 158+ million votes cast in November 2020's election.

Small shifts in either direction could have resulted in substantial changes in outcome – and the overall narrative – to either party’s benefit.

The Edge of 17

More than 152 million votes were cast in THE 2020 U.S. House elections – and the GOP fell short of reclaiming the majority by just 31,751 votes.

Republicans needed a net gain of 17 seats. They won 11, and may yet net another – while New York’s 22nd Congressional District outcome still remains unclear as of January 12th, the Republican candidate there clings to slim lead. 
If those results stand, Republicans will be just five seats shy of a House Majority, and in the five closest races won this election by Democrats, the Republican candidates lost by a combined 31,751 votes.

Of those five races, three were in districts targeted by both parties: New Jersey’s 7th, Iowa’s 3rd, and Virginia’s 7th. But the other two, Illinois’ 14th and Texas’ 15th, were not considered to be competitive. 

The closeness of these races reflects two important takeaways from the 2020 election.

In times of extreme polarization, individual candidate quality matters less than the partisan lean of the district.

In Illinois’ 14th, Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood was far better funded and more well-regarded as a campaigner than her opponent, GOP state Sen. Jim Oberweis, who had lost six high-profile races for Senate, governor, and Congress heading into this election. But Joe Biden only carried this district 50%-48%, winning 203,744 votes, and Underwood did not outperform him, winning 203,209 votes and defeating Oberweis 50.7%-49.3%, a margin of just 5,374 votes.
Texas’ 15th, a nailbiter truly out of left field, threw Biden’s struggles with Latino voters into stark relief.

It also illustrates the importance of partisan lean over individual candidate strength.

Biden won this district bt just 50%-48%, with 120,031 votes to Trump’s 115,200 votes. Hillary Clinton carried it 57%-40% in 2016 with 104,454 votes to Trump’s 73,689.

Down the ballot, two-term Democrat incumbent Vicente Gonzalez won it by just 3 points, 51%-48% percent, after winning in his two previous elections by more than 20%. He earned 115,605 votes to Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez’s 109,017.

Missed Opportunities for Democrats

Moreover, the closest races of the cycle have all broken decisively against Democrats.

Democrats, who had expected to pick up as many as 14 seats this cycle, came nowhere near that. But they were not so far away from breaking even, a result that would have substantially altered post-election narratives.

The combined margin of the 12 closest races won by Republicans (including Iowa’s 2nd and New York’s 22nd) was 59,590 votes. Again, that is out of more than 152 million cast for House candidates nationwide.

Of the 10 races decided by the fewest votes, Republicans won or hold leads in eight. Democrats also lost the seven closest races of the cycle; their narrowest hold was New Jersey’s 7th, with a margin of 5,311 votes, while Republicans won or lead seven races by thinner margins. 

And this analysis does not even count the 15 races viewed as competitive up until Election Day that Republicans won by more than 10 points.

The Historical Picture

While Republicans ran the table in the closest of the close 2020 races, the larger picture is more nuanced. There were 37 races where the margin of victory was less than 5%; Democrats won 19 of them, while Republicans took 18. And of the 74 races decided by 10% or less, Democrats won 38 to Republicans’ 36. That level of parity is consistent with House results from 2018, 2016, and 2014. 

In 2018, when Democrats picked up 40 seats, House races with a margin under 10 points split 48-40 for the GOP, while races within 5 points split 23-20 for the GOP. Republicans also won six of eight races where the margin was under 1 percent, and six of the 10 races decided by the fewest votes.

In 2016, when Democrats gained six seats, the 32 races with margins under 10 percent split evenly, 16-16, though the 15 races with sub-5 percent margins broke 10-5 in favor of Democrats.

Of the 10 races decided by the fewest votes, Republicans and Democrats each won five, while Republicans won four of 10 contests with the narrowest percent margin, including two of three with sub-1 percent margins.

In 2014, even as Democrats lost 13 seats, they won 31 of the 45 races decided by 10 percent or less, and 14 of the 22 races decided by 5 points or less. Republicans won just three of the 10 closest races (both by absolute vote and percent margins).

And in 2012, as President Barack Obama won re-election and Democrats gained eight seats in the House, there were 59 races within 10 percent. Democrats won 32, and Republicans won 27. Of the 29 races within 5 percent, Democrats won 17 to the GOP’s 12. Of the 10 races decided by the fewest votes, the two parties split evenly, but in the six races under 1 percent, Democrats won four to Republicans’ two.

In Conclusion

In the event anyone needed a post-2000 reminder that every vote counts, 2020 has delivered it in spades.

And a difference of 31,571 votes in one direction, or 59,590 votes in the other (a mere Rose Bowl full of voters,) could have had an outsized impact not only on the majority and the post-election narrative, but in the governing of the country over the next two years.