Democrats now hold the largest percentage of Golden State U.S. House seats since the Election of 1882

After picking up seven seats from California in the 2018 U.S. House elections, the Democratic Party may seem as beholden as ever to the Golden State.

Indeed, California Democrats currently own some pretty gaudy numbers in the party’s U.S. House delegation.

The 46 Democratic U.S. Representatives from California in the 116th Congress is an all-time high – besting the mark of 39 set in the 114th and 115th Congresses.

Democrats have won a majority of California U.S. House seats in every general election cycle since 1958 when they won 16 of 30 districts.

The closest the party got to losing that majority came after the Reagan Revolution of 1980. Democrats won 22 of the delegation’s 43 seats that cycle (51.2 percent).

The GOP also got close after the Republican Revolution of 1994, with Democrats claiming 27 of 52 seats (51.9 percent).

Democrats have controlled at least 60 percent of the state’s districts in each of the last 10 election cycles since 2000 and at least 70 percent since redistricting in 2012.

Democrats currently hold 86.8 percent of California’s seats (46 of 53) which is the largest percentage since the Election of 1882 when the party swept all six seats for the 48th Congress. [The party also won each of the state’s two seats during the first five cycles since statehood in 1850].

Despite the uptick of seven seats from the past two congresses, Democrats from California make up a slightly smaller percentage of the Democratic U.S. House caucus overall.

In the 116th Congress, Californians account for 19.6 percent of its 235-member caucus (46 of 235 seats) which is down from 20.1 percent during the 115th (39 of 194) and their all-time peak of 20.7 percent set during the 114th (39 of 188).

At least 10 percent of Democratic seats in the U.S. House have come from California during 18 of the last 19 congresses since the Election of 1982. [The party owned 26 of the 267 seats after the 1990 election, or 9.7 percent].

And just what is the ceiling for the party heading into the 2020 cycle?

Despite enjoying a banner night last November, Democrats did still leave a little (red) meat on the bone.

Of the party’s seven losses, four were by single digits:

  • CA-01: Audrey Denney lost by 9.8 points to three-term Rep. Doug LaMalfa
  • CA-04: Jessica Morse fell 8.3 points shy of unseating five-term Rep. Tom McClintock
  • CA-22: Andrew Janz came up 5.4 points short of defeating eight-term Rep. Devin Nunes
  • CA-50: Ammar Campa-Najjar lost to scandal-plagued five-term Rep. Duncan Hunter by 3.4 points

While it might be difficult to expect Democrats to have as close to a perfect election night in California in 2020 as they did three months ago, the party will have the added benefit of increased turnout during the presidential election cycle and demographic changes that continually pad the party’s advantage in the state.

In 2020, Democrats will have to protect six districts they won by single-digits:

  • CA-10 (Josh Harder): 4.5 points
  • CA-21 (T.J. Cox): 0.8 points
  • CA-25 (Katie Hill): 8.7 points
  • CA-39 (Gil Cisneros): 3.1 points
  • CA-45 (Katie Porter): 4.1 points
  • CA-48 (Harley Rouda): 7.1 points

All six of these seats were pick-ups in 2018 and all but one (CA-39) ousted Republican incumbents.

The low-point for Democrats in California came during the 1904, 1906, and 1908 cycles when the party got shut out of the state’s eight U.S. House seats in each general election. Democrats also failed to win any seats in five other cycles: 1860, 1862, 1864, 1870, and 1900.

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  1. Nikoli Orr on February 7, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    “…every cycle since…1958…closest…losing…” The Ds DID lose their majority, albeit very briefly, from mid-December 1995 to late-March 1996: centre-left R Thomas John “Tom” Campbell was elected (his second stint) from a San Jose-based seat vacated by a D, giving his party an edge of 26 to 25 (with one D-held LA-area seat also left open at about the same time); the Ds would attain a tie when they won the Compton-dominated seat in a by-election. Of course, the recently dominant (by historical standards) CA Democrats have indeed won more than half the seats in every single REGULAR balloting from 1958 on – clinging to it even in 1966, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1994, and 2006, when their gubernatorial or presidential ticketmate fared poorly at the top of the ticket.

    • Dr Eric Ostermeier on February 8, 2019 at 11:09 am

      Nice nugget on the mid-cycle special election. Thanks!

  2. Nikoli Orr on February 7, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    2. The Ds were in the minority for slightly lomger than a year, until early 1 of 1997, rather than just a quarter of it; the Rs outnumbered the DEMs for less than four months (correcting and clarifying earlier post).

  3. Nikoli Orr on February 8, 2019 at 7:05 am

    3. “…make up a slightly smaller percentage…overall.” This modest trend reminds me of an advice the late Johnny Carson once dispensed regarding late night television in general, and “Saturday Night” (the initial name of SNL) in particular. He said that the show needs to appeal to the “center of the country” (e.g. St. Louis, Topeka) in order to be truly sucessful over the long haul. Though they are different fields and endeavours, the axiom is clearly applicable regarding US House control as well indeed.

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