Special Elections to Congress 1971-2018

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Past performance is no guarantee of future value and other disclaimer like things. However, this is what we have to go on to predict the future. From the 92nd Congress in 1971 to the present the average number of special elections to the House of Representatives has been 8.46 per session or 4.23 per year. There is no real trend up or down that is obvious from eyeballing the data. Throwing out the highest and lowest number as outliers produces nearly the same result of 8.45 per session.

Excluding the 115th the average is exactly 9 per congress from 2001-present. If I were going to predict the number of special elections for the 116th congress it would be between 5 and 13 with 9 being my best guess.

The mere three special elections during the last two years of the Clinton presidency were unusual. Only the 1st congress had fewer special elections with only 2 being called. Other than the 1st and 106th there have never been fewer than 5 special elections. On the other hand the 14 in the 115th congress was not so unusual with that number or higher happening many times over the last century. Fifteen times to be precise and in both good times and bad.

92nd    1971-1972   10
93rd     1973-1974   10
94th     1975-1976   10
95th     1977-1978   6
96th     1979-1980   7
97th     1981 1982   9
98th     1983 1984   9
99th     1985 1986   5
100th   1987 1988   8
101st    1989 1990   12
102nd  1991 1992   6
103rd   1993 1994   7
104th   1995 1996   6
105th   1997 1998   9
106th   1999 2000   3
107th   2001 2002   9
108th   2003 2004   5
109th   2005 2006   6
110th   2007 2008   13
111th   2009 2010   11
112th   2011 2012   10
113th   2013 2014   11
114th   2015 2016   7
115th   2017 2018   14

Total: 203 over 24 sessions.

About DENependent

Independent voter interested in the analysis of the "whys" of politics. Resident of Denver, Coloradan since 1980.

10 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JohnInDenver says:

    Well, the special elections may get a jump start from the two indicted members of Congress (Collins & Hunter).  Then there is a North Carolina district where the Board of Elections has thus far refused to certify the results.  Add in the near certain demographic reality of a member of Congress dying while in office (6 since 2010, 15 between 2000 and 2010).

    Those three reasons would get us close to the yearly average — and that is a whole month before the new Session begins and various Republican members begin to experience the delights of being in the minority.

    • DENependent says:

      There could be a surge of resignations as the reality of being in the minority sets in and people decide to launch their golden balloons. Parashute does not seem like the right metaphore since Congress is not going anywhere and the reality is that most Republicans and Democrats face little in the way of real opposition. Lamborn can keep doing whatever it is that Lamborn fills his days with.

      If there is a surge in resignations I would expect there to be fewer the year after.

      It will be interesting to see if the Democrats can keep sniping districts now that they are in power in the House. I suspect that without Duncan Hunter that district will stay red.

      • JohnInDenver says:

        Lots of other SoCal districts were expected to stay Red … until they didn't in this election. Republicans are down to something like 7 of 53 Representatives, allowing the Democratic Party of California to focus resources on a very, very few districts.

        • RepealAndReplace says:

          Ronald and Nancy Reagan, John Wayne and Charlton Heston are probably spinning in their graves.

        • DENependent says:

          S. California was expected to stay red by who and when?

          I recall FiveThirtyEight predicting quite early this cycle that Democrats would win the CA-48, CA-45, and CA-49. As in from the very first day they gave the house forecast to the very end. They also correctly called that Duncan Hunter would win both in the house forecast for CA-50 and in an article on partisanship and scandals.

          CA-50 is only slightly less Republican than CO-5 and they are similar districts demographically as well if you look at the CANTOR score down the page. If Lamborn was caught in a scandal who do you think would win a special election to replace him? A wooden plank with an R label or the most perfect Democratic candidate ever?

          • RepealAndReplace says:

            Oh the wooden plank, for sure. But you know the Republicans in CD 5 would never settle for something so bland. Chaps will be the next US Rep from that district.

          • JohnInDenver says:

            Well, a bit of searching and I found Cook Political Report from 6 months before the election … https://www.cookpolitical.com/ratings/house-race-ratings/183927

            3 Republican Toss-up, 2 Lean Republican, 2 Likely Republican, 5 Solid Republican. Only 2 of the CA Republican districts were considered Lean Democratic.

            • DENependent says:

              That does not seem like anyone at Cook was saying "Oh the Democrats have no chance in California." Lean Republican (or Democratic) is not exactly like saying, "Oh yeah CA-45 is a lock for the incumbent."

              Of the districts Cook rated "Likely Republican" only one turned over. SC-1, an open seat after the primary. Looks like 538 got that one wrong too. When I searched for news on it it was called a "stunning upset" in headlines.

              Democrats won 6 seats in California. They got the 2 lean Dem, the 3 Republican Toss-up, and 1 of the lean R seats. They won NONE of the Likely Republican Seats in California. Hunter is in a Likely Republican district. The Rs will get it back when/if Hunter is expelled from the House.

  2. davebarnes says:

    thanks for posting this

    We are about to see some very expensive by-elections in the next 18 months.

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