Do Republicans have a geographic advantage?
Is all of this really true?
Yes. Republicans, due to the popularity they currently enjoy in rural areas, have been able to gain a number of advantages including:
- A disproportionate number of Representatives in the House for rural states
- District boundaries that grant Republicans a competitive advantage in elections
- An advantage in the Electoral College used to elect the President
- Frequent control of the Senate
What are these advantages?
1. Disproportionate Number of Representatives
The House of Representatives was originally designed to grant each state a number of representatives proportional to their total population. However, the current rules have lead to states that are predominantly rural having a greater number of representatives per person than those with large urban areas. If a single party consistently wins seats for rural states, that party is able to have a majority in the House of Representatives without having the majority of votes overall.
2. Districts that grant a Competitive Advantage to Republicans
The vast majority of elections in the United States, including those for members of the House or Representatives as well as various state legislatures, involve a single candidate elected for an entire district. Many rural states have districts that are designed in such a fashion that if voting trends remain consistent, Republicans will win the majority of seats even if the Democratic candidates received more votes. (This is known as Gerrymandering and is discussed more below.)
3. Advantage in the Electoral College
The President of the United States is elected via the Electoral College. This system grants each state a number of votes equal to the number of Senators and Representatives that represent it. With a few exceptions, states will grant all of their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state. Whichever candidate gains the most Electoral Votes overall wins the election.
Due to the disproportionate number of Representatives (as discussed above), urban states are granted few Electoral Votes than they would if the number of Representatives were proportional to population. This makes it feasible for candidates to win the majority of Electoral Votes without winning the popular vote if they win in more rural states. This happened both with Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016.
4. Frequent control of the Senate
Each state is granted two Senators in the Senate regardless of the population. Since there are more states that are predominately rural than there are states with significant urban areas, a party favored by rural voters will naturally gain a significant number of seats in the Senate. This has been the case for Republicans who have had a Senate majority for 18 of the past 25 years and have had at least 40 Senators since 1981.
Since the Senate was designed to represent the states, I would not describe this advantage as unfair. Instead, I mention it as it is pertinent to later discussions.
How did Republicans gain these advantages?
There are many factors involved, some due to intentional efforts made by Republican legislators and others due to unintended consequences of laws governing elections and the structure of the US government.
Compromise of "The Great Compromise"
When the current structure of the United States was being designed, there were two major competing propositions. Representatives from larger, more populous states wanted each state to have a number of legislators proportional to their population. Representatives from smaller, less populous states wanted each state to have an equal number of legislators in Congress. As a compromise, the House of Representatives was designed to represent the people through proportional representation and the Senate was designed to represent the states with a fixed number of Senators per sate. This agreement is known as The Great Compromise1.
As the United States grow, the number of representatives in the House grow as well. The ever increasing size of the House led to conflicts over how to properly apportion seats; eventually it was agreed to cap the number at 435, the size the House had reached after the 1910 census2. However, because each state is expected to have at least one representative, these 435 can no longer be spread evenly across the country.
For example, compare how Congressional seats are apportioned3 to the least and most populous states4, Wyoming5 and California6 respectively. Wyoming has one representative who represents approximately 600,000 people while California has 53 representatives who represent approximately 39,500,000 people or about 1 representative for every 745,000 people. For California to have the same proportion of representatives to voters, it would need 66 representatives; that's 13 more than it currently has.
(Note: I'm using approximation because I feel the exact numbers are less important than the illustrating the clear discrepancy.)
This demonstrates that more populous states are at a disadvantage as they have fewer representatives than they would if the number of seats was still based solely on total population. Conversely, less populous states have an advantage. Because these less populous states consist mostly of rural areas and voters in rural areas favor Republicans7, Republicans gain the advantage of having a disproportionately larger number of seats in the House of Representatives.
Since the number of representatives for a given state influences the number of Electoral Votes granted to that state, this translates into an advantage when electing Presidents via the Electoral College. Using California and Wyoming as examples again, Wyoming gains Electoral Votes (1 Representative + 2 Senators) while California gets 55. That's one vote for every 200,000 people in Wyoming but one vote for roughly every 718,000 people California. Voters in Wyoming essentially have 3.5 times the influence on Presidential elections!
Though the Founder Fathers were concerned about "factions" (i.e. political parties)8 9 10, they did explicitly account for them when writing the Constitution. Political parties in the United States didn't emerge until a decade after the Constitution was signed11. (The dominant parties of today, The Democratic Party and The Republican Party, weren't formed until 182812 and 185813 respectively.) At the time the Constitution was ratified and shortly thereafter, political conflicts tended to be between different states or across different parts of the federal government (i.e. Congress versus the President).
Many checks and balances created by the Founding Fathers to ensure no one group exercised too much power. These were designed with the assumption that there would be a certainly level of antagonism between different parts of the government. In today's political climate, though, this antagonism is greatly diminished when the government is controlled primarily by one party. (This is evident in the correlation between Congress's productivity14 and the party alignment of Congress and the White House.15) Political parties provide the means and the motive to operate across such divides.
One consequence of this is that, if one party gains enough control, it can potentially act without effective opposition and enact measures that give that party advantages that will keep it in power. This leads to a positive feedback loop that is difficult for opposing parties to combat.
Having an advantage in elections for the House and the President as well as frequent control of the Senate means that Republicans are in a better position on the federal level to gain and maintain advantages. At the state level, meanwhile, the popularity of the Republican party in rural states means that measures that provide electoral advantages (intentionally or not) are less likely to be opposed.
This is the big one in the OP and is touched on in other answers. There are plenty of great resources out there about Gerrymandering, so here's the short version: it's using past voting patterns to predict future voting patterns and then designing districts that will produce the most favorable results for a particular party based on those expected patterns. This involves "packing" to create a small number of districts dominated by the opposition and "cracking" to spread out of the rest of the opposition into districts that your party will win by modest margins.
After the 2010 Census, Republicans controlled the majority of State governments and thus could redistricting as they saw fit. Using the latest information technology, they were able to gerrymander to an extent not previously seen.
How do Republicans maintain these advantages?
Why would the districts get drawn by the parties anyway?
The founding fathers intentionally delegated most responsibilities to state governments, including running elections and drawing districts. Though some states have independent commissions that draw districts, others kept that power in the hand of legislatures. Remember, many of these rules were setup before partisan party politics became the norm.
Why doesn't the government do something about this?
The Senate is unlikely to change in any meaningful way since it is a cornerstone of our government. The number of representatives could easily be changed, but I am unaware of any significant efforts to do so. As for preventing gerrymandering, this would be perceived as overreach by Congress; even if a federal law was passed, it would likely be challenged and may not survive in the courts.
It looks totally unfair and ridiculous, so if this was true I would think that a lot of Americans would protest against this, no?
Generally speaking, demonstrations are reactions to specific incidents. Such protests do provide the opportunity to highlight systematic problems but are typical not caused by them.
As for why the American public isn't advocating for changes that would nullify Republican advantages, it's important to note that people need to first be aware of the situation then consider a problem worth prioritizing. There many possible explanations as to why voters haven't been successful in pressuring the government into making changes that would reduce or eliminate the advantages Republican's enjoy.
- Voters may not be aware of the situation or may not understand it sufficiently.
- Rural voters may see the benefits that Republicans enjoy not as an unfair advantage but as a necessary protection against being out-voted by urban areas.
- Voters are prioritizing other issues.
- Politicians, particularly Republicans, have an incentive to maintain these advantages as it makes it easier for them to stay in power.
Rural states in the United States currently have a number of advantages when it comes to representation, particularly in the federal government. Because Republicans are popular in rural areas, they are able to leverage these advantages. The reasons why the underlying causes haven't been addressed are varied and often involve speculation. Suffice to say, there hasn't been a sufficient effort to eliminate the arguably unfair advantages that Republicans enjoy in elections.