WASHINGTON -- Americans, many still undecided, are expected to give Democrats even tighter control of the House in Tuesday's elections - enough to squeeze but probably not choke President Reagan's economic initiatives. Most experts in both parties think Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans by 241-192 with two vacancies, will pick up an additional 15 to 20 seats.
A UPI survey -- updated Monday night -- indicates Democrats will pick up 13 to 20 seats. This is a slight change from a survey completed Friday which indicated a 14- to 24-seat pickup.
Early Democratic hopes of a romp of 30 or more seats apparently faded under a multimillion-dollar GOP advertising campaign attempting to blame the country's economic mess on past Democratic mistakes and urging voters to 'stay the course' with Reagan policies.
If Democrats pick up fewer than 20 seats, Republicans can claim that they lost no more than the party that controls the White House expects to lose in an off-year.
But a gain of 20 or more would be a clear Democratic victory, and 30 or more would be an obvious repudiation of GOP policies.
The combined effects of the cutback and new map has been the creation of some of the hottest election contests political observers can remember. Incumbents are pitted against incumbents in 15 races.
However, both parties agreed that even on the eve of the election, the electorate was so volatile almost anything could happen.
One last-minute snag that could hurt the Republicans is a story Monday in the nationally distributed newspaper USA Today, quoting an unnamed 'administration official' as saying the White House is preparing a list of possible Social Security cuts in case the presidential commission on Social Security reform recommends tax increases rather than cuts.
Although the administration strongly denied the story, Democratic candidates all over the country were informed of it to use in last-minute campaigning.
The economy and Social Security emerged as the major issues of the campaign, with Social Security easily the most emotional and volatile.
Few House leaders or committee chairmen are in serious jeopardy Tuesday, although GOP leader Bob Michel of Illinois faced unexpectedly strong opposition from attorney Douglas Stephens in his recession-wracked Peoria district. And considerable attention is being paid to the race between two incumbents in Massachusetts, Republican Margaret Heckler and Democrat Barney Frank, whose districts were combined by redistricting. Frank appears to be leading.
The survey of political experts in Washington and UPI reporters in the states indicates that of the 435 House districts, 206 are safe for Democrats and 129 are safe for Republicans. Of the remaining 100 races, 30 are considered leaning GOP, 26 leaning Democratic, and 44 are too close to call. That means that if the 'leaning' seats go as expected, Democrats start out with 231 seats, more than the 218 needed to control the House. If half the 'tossup' races go Democratic, the party would have 254 seats -- 13 more than it does today.
There are indications that more of the tossup races would break Democratic, leading to a Democratic pickup of up to 20 new seats.
But there is still a question whether Reagan will be able to muster the coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats -- 'Boll Weevils' -- who allowed him to win two major budget fights and the tax cut bill.
Reagan has been able to count on 29 to 44 conservative Democrats in the first two years. All of these conservatives who are seeking re-election are in seats generally considered safe. Therefore, Reagan can count on roughly the same Democratic support.
But because of reapportionment, 17 seats moved into the traditionally conservative Sun Belt, so any Democrat elected from this area may be inclined to join the 'Boll Weevil' faction and Reagan's hand actually would be strengthened.