2018 is likely going to be a very good year to run as a Democrat, and the party will have a real chance to flip control in both houses of Congress. But what about in Arkansas? The state has been trending red since Barack Obama ran for president and in the last two election cycles, it’s started to look like one of the reddest states in the country.

In his debut column for the Arkansas Times, Billy Fleming argues that Democrats have a chance to make significant gains in the state House. Using a statistical model, Fleming and his data collaborators project that 16 GOP-held seats are likely to flip. That would still leave Dems far short of a majority — they hold just 24 of the 100 seats — but it would represent real progress after the utter whoopings of the last few years. There’s basically nowhere to go but up.


Ten of the 16 seats that Fleming identifies don’t have declared Democratic candidates at all yet, so … there’s a pretty big fly in the ointment at the moment.

Inching past 25 would deny the Republicans the 75-vote supermajority necessary for most budget appropriations, which could give Democrats incrementally more leverage in the process. (Let’s not get carried away, however — I doubt we’ll see Democrats voting in lockstep to block appropriations, as opponents of the Medicaid expansion have periodically tried and failed to do.) Any gains at all could perhaps shift the balance on a committee or two. There are smart ways for, say, a 30-vote minority to exercise a tiny bit of pull that simply don’t exist for a 24-vote minority.


Fleming notes the model he is using doesn’t account for idiosyncratic variables such as candidate quality. I’d be interested to know how predictive this sort of modeling has been for small local elections, which feature very small samples of total voters, much more limited coverage and advertisements, wide variance in often very low name recognition, no public polling, and so on. Quirky factors can matter a lot in samples so small. I’ve seen research that these sorts of elections often track the generic partisan ballot, which would give Democrats some hope if national trends leak into Arkansas.

If the prediction is 16 seats flipping, I’m afraid I’ll take the under. But Fleming believes that the underlying fundamentals and demographics give Arkansas a better shot for a blue wave than skeptics like me might think. In any case, it’s hard to argue with his underlying case that Democrats need to aggressively recruit and field candidates in districts across the state. The national headwinds will probably at least help at the margin. Elections are weird and unpredictable. Put strong candidates on the ballot and you never know. Stuff happens.


In addition to the purple-ish districts you might predict, Fleming identifies a few surprising districts as pickup opportunities. Read the whole thing.

Fleming, a former Student Government president at the University of Arkansas, is the research director of the Ian McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the “Indivisible Guide.” He’s also previously pledged to make his own personal contribution to Democratic candidate recruitment: