ELECTION PROGNOSTICATOR: Control of Iowa’s House of Representatives biggest toss-up of any state legislative chamber

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A recent tweet by Chaz Nuttycombe drew The Iowa Standard’s attention. Nuttycombe, who is an election forecaster and director of CNalysis (a political prediction website), said the Iowa House of Representatives is “without a doubt” the purest of toss-ups in state legislative chambers in 2020.

Currently, CNalysis gives Republicans a 48 percent chance of retaining control of the House. Democrats have a 45.5 percent chance of winning the majority. You can view the map here.

Nuttycombe said the group uses a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data. He said he examines what happened in a district in 2018. He also looks at previous election data for the district.

But, in the last two years, he has realized anything from before 2016 isn’t overly useful.

“In 2018, I was looking at data that was before Trump and that kind of threw me off in some of my Iowa House predictions,” he said. “I was seeing these districts that voted for Obama and I thought they’d swing back. What we’re kind of seeing, especially in Iowa, is a deterioration of elasticity in the electorate.”

In addition to district data, Nuttycombe said he uses data from the 2018 Iowa Governor election in each district, as well as data from the auditor’s race.

“I don’t look at anything that’s before 2016 pretty much anymore,” he said. “Anything before the election of Donald Trump is just not really useful data. It is just a huge realignment with what we’re seeing in suburban areas and rural areas across the country.”

A “toss-up” is considered 50/50. A “tilt” is 60/40. A “lean” is 7/30. A “likely” is 80-20.

There is also a model created by an oddsmaker. You can read about the methodology for that here.

Iowa, Nuttycombe said, is one of the states with the most electorate elasticity in the country. A state like South Carolina, he said, does not have much elasticity in the electorate. But Iowa has some of the biggest swings between Democrats and Republicans across the country.

This is partially because of all the Independent voters in Iowa who harbor little loyalty for either political party.

While Nuttycombe believes Iowa will swing to the Left in 2020, he still has Iowa leaning toward Trump in his ratings.

And, the current trend across in the country is a lack of split-ticket voting. In the past, Alabama had state legislature districts that gave Trump more than 70 percent of the vote, but those seats went to Democrats in 2018.

“Now what you’re seeing in state legislative districts is things are getting more and more tied to the Presidential results,” he said. “Things are becoming more polarizing.”

As for control of the Iowa House, Nuttycombe said it is truly a coin flip.

“The only other state political chamber I’d compare it to is the Arizona House,” he said. “Even then, if you pointed a gun at my head, I’d choose Republicans would keep (Arizona).”

Fundraising clearly favors Democrats right now in the race for control of the Iowa House. But, Nuttycombe said, Iowa comes down to effective campaigning more than fundraising.

“Plenty of Democrats outraised Republicans in 2018 but still lost in their Iowa House races,” he said.

House District 55 is one of a handful of races that may determine which party holds the majority. This race features Rep. Michael Bergan (Republican) and Kayla Koether (Democrat). Bergan won by a single-digit vote margin in 2018. And that victory came with controversy due to some absentee ballots.

“The Democrat is doing really well in fundraising there,” Nuttycombe said. “I’m sure she’s got a good pitch.”

Rep. Jeff Shipley (Republican) is in a competitive campaign to retain his seat in House District 82 against Democrat Phil Miller. The district is relatively unique.

“Shipley is very anti-vax (pro-medical freedom), which is kind of a politically toxic position I would believe to have during a pandemic,” Nuttycombe said. “The same applies to other races – Vermont Governor’s race. But yeah, (Shipley) won in an upset. Both seats tilt Democrat.”

The other change is the House seat currently held by Ashley Hinson, who is running for Congress. House District 67 is between Democrat Eric Gjerde and Republican Sally Ann Abbott.

“That’s the only district that voted for Clinton that a Republican held on to in the Iowa House,” Nuttycombe said. “That is very much prime to flip, especially given the fundraising numbers there.”

It doesn’t take a ton of imagination to envision Democrats gaining all three of those seats. If those three seats flipped and nothing else changed, the chamber would have a 50/50 split.

“If Democrats want the majority, they’ll have to win a toss-up,” Nuttycombe said.

House District 64 is one of two toss-ups. In that race, Republican Chad Ingels is challenging Democrat Jodi Grover. Republican Rep. John Landon is considered a “toss-up” as well. He is being challenged by Democrat Andrea Phillips.

“It’s very tight for the control,” Nuttycombe said.

Come the day before Election Day, Nuttycombe told The Iowa Standard CNalysis will get rid of “toss-up” and put those races in a “tilt” direction.

There are a couple of unknown variables. One is the absentee ballot request form being sent to every active, registered voter.

Another is it being the first time Trump is on the ballot without the option of straight party voting.

“I forgot they had gotten rid of straight party voting,” Nuttycombe said. “I think that would help the Democrats if anything because, again, off the top of my head Iowa is the most elastic state and, for example, in that district with Miller and Shipley, Trump won by 22 points. But yeah, I can’t really give a decisive answer on absentee, but the lack of straight ticket voting I think would probably help Democrats.”

Prior to getting rid of straight party voting, Nuttycombe said people were splitting their ticket in district – voting for Trump for President but still voting for Democrats down the ballot.

“Really, if anything, I think (getting rid of straight party voting) would enhance split-ticket voting,” he said. “Since Trump is likely to carry the state, it would benefit Democrats more than Republicans – especially in the suburbs. Trump is going to be losing some of those districts in the suburbs in areas just north of Des Moines and in Cedar Rapids. Those districts are probably going to vote for Biden.”

There seems to be one safe bet a little more than three months out.

“I will say that 2020 is going to be a very unique election year given the kind of obstacles to voting given the pandemic,” Nuttycombe said. “I get asked that question a lot, about how to factor that in, but there really isn’t any way we can factor that kind of stuff – with the increase in absentee voting and so forth – because there is no precedent for it.”

For reference, Nuttycombe said he started forecasting state election sin 2017 with the Virginia House of Delegates. He got 96 out of 100 right. In 2018, he got 94.67 percent of his predictions correct for the 4,880 races he forecasted.

“I predict that number will go up this year because the big mistake I made in 2018 was over-estimating Democrats in rural areas and under-estimating them in suburban areas.”

One big goal of CNalysis, shedding light on elections.

“We’re the only group that predicts thousands upon thousands of elections,” he said. “Our goal is to just get people educated on the subject. Maybe 1-in-5 Americans know who their state legislator is. These races are very important.”

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall