Current Weather
The Spy FM

Geography, Not Gerrymandering, May Explain GOP’s Hold On House

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
November 15, 2012

Some Democrats complain that Republicans in recent decades have had the edge in House races because GOP state legislatures have been better at the gerrymandering game. Except that may not be true.

Some political experts believe there’s an easier explanation, and perhaps a tougher one for Democrats to overcome: Voters supporting Republican House candidates, they say, are spread over more congressional districts than those who support Democrats. It’s that simple. It’s merely a matter of geography.

Democratic voters tend to be concentrated in fewer areas on the map relative to Republicans, according to these experts.

“What’s so striking to me is that nonwhite voters are sufficient to allow Democrats to win statewide races increasingly. And we elect both the Senate and president on statewide races. But nonwhite voters are so clustered in so few congressional districts around the country that Republicans have a built-in advantage to win the House,” said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, in a post-election panel discussion at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

“It’s not an accident, it’s not random, that the presidency and the Senate stayed in Democratic control and the House stayed so strongly Republican,” said Wasserman.

While Democrats held a House majority as recently as 2010, the geography-favors-Republicans theory sets up the prospect of divided government for the foreseeable future (assuming Democrats can retain control of the presidency and/or Senate).

Democrats entered Election Day with 193 House seats and needing 25 to reach the 218 to retake control of the chamber. They fell short of that goal, though they fared better than many analysts expected, now holding 195 seats to the Republicans’ 233 with seven races still too close to call more than a week after the election.

So it was a moral victory for Democrats of the sort that they might have to get used to, if Wasserman is correct.

One piece of evidence: Democrats aren’t necessarily winning seats even in states that have adopted nonpartisan commissions to redraw congressional lines.

This is an important point. Those redistricting commissions have been part of a reform movement based on the notion that partisan redistricting is at the root of the problem.

In a post on the political science blog called The Monkey Cage, guest blogger Nicholas Goedert, a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, writes (emphasis in the original):

“States that are heavily urbanized (such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania) are more distorted against Democrats than more rural states (such as Minnesota and Wisconsin). Indeed, urbanization has a negative and significant effect on the difference between seats won by Democrats and expected seats, even after controlling for the party in control of redistricting.

“Of course, this analysis does not imply that Democrats are doomed to the minority for the foreseeable future, or even the next decade. The Pennsylvania map includes five Republican seats won by Obama in 2008, suggesting that a wave of sufficient strength could reverse the delegation’s majority. But because of unequal concentrations of vote share in most states, not just those with Republican gerrymanders, a Democratic majority will be more difficult than it should be. And this difficulty persists even when both parties agree to the maps.

“Changing our redistricting institutions alone will not assure national proportionality.”

Actually, it’s difficult to envision how Democrats can tackle the issue of voter geography. The only people who typically relocate for voting reasons are politicians themselves, and even that’s not always true.

Interestingly, the focus on Republican advantages in the House come amid lots of discussion about how changing demographics give Democrats certain advantages in the competition for the Electoral College and the presidency.

There does appear to be a glimmer of hope for Democrats when it comes to the House, and, once again, it has to do with Latino voters.

According to Goedert’s analysis, in states with large Hispanic populations, Democrats did about as well if not better than he calculated they would do based on their share of the popular vote. For some reason, Latinos tilted the balance back toward Democrats. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center