Donald Trump’s potential impeach hinges on whether the Democrats win the House of Representatives in 2018. Earning a majority would enable the Democrats to seize the committee chairmanships that could then schedule impeachment hearings and, with a majority on the judiciary committee, recommend to the House as a whole that it consider articles of impeachment.
Even considering impeachment would be disastrous for Donald Trump. Such happenings would dominate news coverage for months on end and the hearings would likely dredge up improprieties Trump and his crew would rather keep hidden. If the House passes articles of impeachment – again, a rather likely occurrence should the Democrats win it – then Trump would face removal from office, a prospect which, unlikely because of the large majority needed to convict in the Senate, would lead to more disastrous news coverage and a likely hemorrhage of support from moderates that could cripple his reelection prospects.
But can the Democrats actually win the House in 2018?
They currently have a large lead in the generic Congress poll, a leading indicator of how a party will perform in the next midterm election. But even a large lead there might not be enough for Democrats to win the House and that’s because of two unfortunate phenomenon, one inadvertent and the other malicious: Natural geographic sorting and gerrymandering.
Geographic sorting simply means that Democrats have an inefficient electoral coalition. Liberals tend to crowd together in large cities, whose politics they dominate. However, since they tend to live altogether, there aren’t enough of them spread out through the rest of the state (eg, downstate Illinois) to make those congressional districts competitive. As such, Democrats win urban districts by large majorities, but can’t compete in other districts. This means Democrats may win the House popular vote while still falling well short of the House majority.
Gerrymandering, of course, also hurts Democrats. The Republican wave year in 2010 allowed them to control redistricting across numerous states, gerrymandering districts to cluster Democrats, minorities, and favor Republicans. Congressional districts in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin showcase clear efforts to benefit Republicans. While gerrymandering hasn’t had too much of an effect in the past because Democrats do it too, many analysts expect it to play an important role in 2018.
Between geographic sorting and gerrymandering, Democrats likely need to win the House popular vote by between 5.5 and 8.5 points. In 2016, the median House district – that is, the 218th, the one needed for a majority – tilted Republican by 5.5 points. Other political scientists tend to think that Democrats will need to win the House popular vote by 8.5 points for a chance to win the majority.
Can they do this?
Maybe. According to generic House vote forecasts, Democrats are up by around 10 points, which would be enough give them the House. Of course, with 14 months to go until election day, that could change, in either direction. An economic slowdown would hurt the Republicans; continued economic growth and a more temperate president could help Republicans.
But as it stands now, a leading 2018 House forecast sees the Democrats as the favorites to win the chamber. Let’s hope that happens so we can finally impeach Trump.