Barack Obama has said that he wants to help Democrats win back a majority in the House of Representatives. He says he looks forward to Nancy Pelosi being speaker again.
If he does work hard to elect House Democrats, it will be a change from 2010 and 2012, when he didn’t do much at all for them.
But let’s say he does. What are the chances of success?
Certainly not zero. Democrats need to gain 17 seats to win a House majority of 218. That’s fewer than the number of seats that changed party in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
And let’s not regard as etched in stone the Six Year Rule, which says that the president’s party always loses lots of seats in the sixth year of his presidency.
That didn’t happen in 1996, when Bill Clinton’s Democrats actually picked up five seats. And in Ronald Reagan’s sixth year in 1986, Democrats gained only five seats.
Which is to say, the Six Year Rule was inoperative in two of the three eight-year presidencies in the past 40 years.
Polling shows that voters have much more negative feelings toward congressional Republicans than congressional Democrats. Post-election polls have shown Democrats ahead of Republicans on the generic ballot: Which party’s candidate for the House would you vote for?
All but one of those polls was conducted by Scott Rasmussen, most of whose polls before the 2012 election showed the parties about even in the generic ballot. Rasmussen’s most recent survey shows the gap closing, but that’s just one poll and could be statistical noise.
So there’s a case to be made that the Democrats can win back the majority. But there’s also a case to be made that they can’t, or at least that it will be very hard.
The crux of that case is that the playing field favors the Republicans. Only 16 of the 234 House Republicans represent districts carried by Barack Obama.
That’s because by the latest count I’ve seen (we’re still waiting on a definitive tabulation of the presidential vote by congressional districts), Mitt Romney carried 228 congressional districts and Obama carried only 207.
Democrats attribute that to partisan Republican redistricting plans. That’s a partial, but only a partial, explanation.
What hurts the Democrats in any districting plan is the fact that the Obama Democratic constituency is geographically clustered.
Blacks, Hispanics and gentry liberals tend to live in densely populated urban areas that are hugely Democratic.
Obama’s job approval is a little over 50 percent now. But this could rise, depending on events. That would improve Democrats’ chances for a House majority.
But it could also fall or hover about where it is. In which case House Democrats’ road to a majority is uphill.
• Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.