25

I'm not from the U.S. but someone told me that the Republican Party had an unfair advantage in elections for the House of Representatives. This advantage would be geographic.

The voters who usually vote for Democratic candidates tend to live in dense clusters, cities, urban districts. While on the other hand, the voters who usually vote for Republican candidates tend to live in rural districts.

So, much of the vote that Democratic voters cast are "wasted" on candidates who were going to win anyway. Usually, in districts where the Democratic candidate wins, he wins by a very wide margin (which is useless). But in districts where the Republican candidate wins, he wins by a small/narrow margin.

He also said something about the Republicans drawing the maps of the districts. The Republicans create one or two district extremely dense in Democratic voters, so that the Democrats win these districts with a (useless) gigantic margin. And the Republicans tend to win all the other district by small margins. But that looks more like some kind of conspiracy theory to me. Why would the districts get drawn by the parties anyway?

My question is: Is all of this really true?

And if yes, why doesn't the government do something about this? It looks totally unfair and ridiculous, so if this was true I would think that a lot of Americans would protest against this, no? Yet I have never heard of any such protest.

  • 4
    Redistricting is required by the Constitution. Each individual state controls the process for drawing its own congressional districts. The Congress was controlled by the democrats from 1960s-1990s Census. Was it unfair then? – user1873 Nov 14 '14 at 4:02
  • Under the current system, one of the most Gerrymandered (we have a term for district maps drawn in this manner) is Maryland, which is typically a Democrat strong hold state and the map was last drawn by a Democrat. – hszmv Jan 6 at 14:20

10 Answers 10

26

Republican Party had an unfair advantage in elections for the House of Representatives. This advantage would be geographic.

Well, "Fair" is in the eye of the beholder :)

But the geographic advantage in the House of Representatives is undisputably there. FiveThirtyEight covers it in detail in Feb 2103 post "Did Democrats Get Lucky in the Electoral College?":

However, much or most of the Republican advantage in the House results from geography rather than deliberate attempts to gerrymander districts. Liberals tend to cluster in dense urban centers, creating districts in which Democrats might earn as much as 80 or 90 percent of the vote. In contrast, even the most conservative districts in the country tend not to give more than about 70 or 75 percent of their vote to Republicans. This means that Democrats have more wasted votes in the cities than Republicans do in the countryside, depriving Democrats of votes at the margin in swing districts. Eliminating partisan gerrymandering would reduce the G.O.P.’s advantage in the House but not eliminate it.

However, to balance that advantage, the main topic of the linked article exists: Democrats have a similar, geography-based, electoral advantage in Presidential elections.


He also said something about the Republicans drawing the maps of the districts ... The Republicans create ...

Partly true, and partly false.

False: this is NOT a "Republican" thing. Both parties do it (see Tenthustice's excellent answer for details). FiveThirtyEight (not exactly a conservative bastion) says:

Democrats were no less aggressive about creating gerrymandered districts in states like Illinois.

However, as another answer noted, Republicans had more opportunity to do this in 2010 compared to Democrats, by virtue of winning more state legislatures. Meaning that between 2010 and 2020 censuses, they can gerrymander more states than Democrats can, despite equal desire by both to do so.


And if yes, why doesn't the government do something about this? It looks totally unfair and ridiculous, so if this was true I would think that a lot of Americans would protest against this, no? Yet I have never heard of any such protest.

Several explanations:

  1. Gerrymandering may be detrimental in the eyes of individual people... but it's a swell thing for every individual politician who is granted an enormous electoral advantage by it in "their" district, no matter what party. If you can guarantee your election by 30% margin, why would you put your election at risk by giving 20% of that margin to another district to let a fellow co-partier get elected?

  2. The "government" doesn't do anything about it because Constitution explicitly relegates the authority over how to do this to the state level.

  • 2
    Another measure is over-representation of the small states in Senate. Every state, regardless of the population size, has two senators. Senators representing around 10% of the total population can filibuster any activity - and those low-population states vote overwhelmingly Republican. So Republicans have similar unfair advantage in Senate too. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Nov 18 '14 at 14:25
  • 14
    @PeterMasiar - That's a feature, not a bug. (At least, it was 227 years ago.) – Bobson Dec 17 '14 at 22:38
  • 1
    @PeterMasiar, in addition to Bobson's comment, the structure of the Senate is completely irrelevant to this question. – A Bailey May 4 '17 at 19:51
  • 5
    "If you can guarantee your election by 30% margin, why would you put your election at risk by giving 20% of that margin to another district to let a fellow co-partier get elected?" Actually, the whole point of gerrymandering is to do exactly that. The party drawing the lines gives a 10-15% margin to each of its members (more than enough in all but the biggest wave years) by making districts that have 30%+ margins for the opposition party. The representatives from the opposition party may appreciate running unopposed; it's the party drawing the lines that wants to win by "enough, but no more". – ShadowRanger Nov 8 '18 at 15:48
  • 1
    @ShadowRanger - all the Republicans who lost their seats 2 days ago because they gave up extra couple % of their gerrymandered districts to fellow districts send their regards and regrets. – user4012 Nov 8 '18 at 18:45
12

Right off the bat, it's important to note that since 1931, Democrats have won 31 of the last 41 House elections, historically by wide margins. So if they are playing with a disadvantage, they handle themselves pretty well.

It is true that people representing urban areas tend to get comically large margins of victory. But Republicans in rural areas tend to win by large margins as well. By way of comparison: Shiela Jackson Lee, the Democrat representing Houston, won by 72% of the vote this year. But Cynthia Lumis, the Republican representing the entire state of Wyoming, won with 68%.

As to the second part of your question, you're describing gerrymandering, a very real part of American politics. Technically, gerrymandering IS illegal. But it's damn hard to prove in court.

But gerrymandering is a bipartisan phenomenon. A Washington Post analysis this year found that the two most gerrymandered states were Maryland and North Carolina, one controlled by Republicans and the other by Democrats. Of the ten most gerrymandered states, Republicans controlled six.

Does it give Republicans an advantage? Signs point to yes... right now. Republicans had a wave election in 2010, which swept them into power in several state legislatures right when redistricting was set to occur. But if Democrats gain those legislatures back in 2020, expect retribution.

  • 1
    I think it's also worth pointing out that there's some natural gerrymandering going on: because democrats congregate in densely populated urban areas, that makes it such that districts naturally favor republicans a little. – Avi Nov 14 '14 at 5:23
  • Oh, for sure. Saying that Democrats suffer a disadvantage because their base voters congregate in certain areas says more about their electoral strategy than the "fairness" of a system of representation laid down 250 years ago. – TenthJustice Nov 14 '14 at 15:22
  • 6
    Eh, I think it's not worth getting hung up on the issue of "fairness" and just talk about how the system behaves. If you let that distract you it will be to the detriment of your answer. – Avi Nov 14 '14 at 16:24
  • One measure of gerrymandering could be ability to win on representative count even if losing total national popular vote. That happened (republicans won) in presidential elections in 2000, and 2012 House elections. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Nov 18 '14 at 14:20
  • 1
    I think the first paragraph distracts from the discussion, and should probably be removed. For instance, the Democrats from 1931 are probably more aligned with Republican values today. So is it the Democrats or the Republicans that "handle themselves pretty well?" -- not sure that is really relevant – BurnsBA Nov 8 '18 at 13:29
5

The Daily Kos reports that Donald Trump and a Republican Representative won 218 congressional districts in 2016. That's an absolute majority.

Trump-Republican   218
Trump-Democrat     12
Clinton-Republican 23
Clinton-Democrat   182

So we can see that Trump received a plurality of the vote in 230 congressional districts while the Republican Representatives won 241 congressional districts. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton won a plurality of the national vote. Trump also won a majority of the states and counties. So Trump clearly outperformed his national vote share in geographic regions.

The Brookings Institution found that Democrats won a lower share of House seats than their national vote share in 2016. This was one of eight elections since 1946 when this happened. In the rest, it was the Democrats who received a higher share of seats than votes. And Democrats historically received a larger bonus than Republicans ever have.

Specifically in 2016, Democrats won about 47.3% of the national vote in House elections but only 44.8% of the seats.

TL;DR: historically it's been Democrats with the geographic advantage, but in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, it was the Republicans.

Some blame this on gerrymandering. However, the most packed (partisan) districts in the country are not gerrymandered (at least not by Republicans). The ten most partisan districts are mostly located in New York City and California, where Republicans do not control redistricting. Only two of the ten are in states where Republicans redistricted after 2010: Pennsylvania and Florida. In all ten cases, the districts were located in major cities with enough population for their own congressional districts: New York City (5); Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Philadelphia; and Miami.

A larger problem is that Republicans have been outperforming Democrats in the districts that are not gerrymandered. For example, Trump won thirty states when Obama only won twenty-eight and twenty-six. Bush won at least thirty both times. Trump won about 80% of the counties. Republicans won 52% of the Senate seats, even though the Democrats had good years in 2012 and 2006. Republicans won 66% of the seats in 2016 and 2014.

3

In addition to Gerrymandering, there is the issue per-capita representation differences in the House of Representatives.

The variance ranges from roughly half-million constituents per representative (R.I.) to 1 million constituents per representative (MT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_congressional_districts#Extremes

This interactive map shows you the breakdown by state: http://www.datamasher.org/mash-ups/people-representative

Does it favor a particular party? I don't know. But is another variable to consider.

At the state government level, the differences can be a bit more drastic between state:

http://ballotpedia.org/Population_represented_by_state_legislators

That of course doesn't have a direct correlation with the federal level, but there's likely some indirect correlations.

  • 1
    That's state legislators, not members of Congress. For members of Congress, the extremes are Montana with around a million per district, and Rhode Island with about 530,000 per district (Montana's the biggest state with 1 district, RI the smallest with 2) – cpast Nov 14 '14 at 23:20
  • @cpast ack! Yes, you're absolutely correct! Point still stands, but less so. I'll update the answer to fix that later! (or feel free to add that directly if you wish). – user1530 Nov 14 '14 at 23:56
2

The Republicans have an advantage insofar they control a large number of "small" (by population) Western states (the two Dakotas come to mind), that have only one Congressman based on population, but two Senators, hence three electoral votes. This compares to a large Democratic state like California, with 52 Congressmen, whose two Senators bring the electoral vote total to 54, or 4 percent (not three times) more than the number of Congressmen.

Whether or not that is "unfair" is another subject.

2

This question popped up at the top again and it reminded me of this recent article:

http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-democrats-urban-geography-demographics.html

While it doesn't specifically talk about the Federal House of Rep's, it does go into the broad geographic issue that democrats are facing: Over the past several decades, rural democrats have moved to the cities.

This has left very high concentrations of democrats in urban areas. This is where the geographic disadvantage happens. Since representatives not only represent people--but geography, vasts swaths of our country are in very rural, mostly purely red areas. These areas also have the lowest concentration of population, so there is a geographic discrepancy here in that mathematically, we can have more republican representatives even though there are fewer overall constituents that they are representing.

2

Do Republicans have a geographic advantage?

Is all of this really true?

Yes. Republicans, due to the popularity they enjoy in rural areas, have been able to gain a number of advantages in Congress (both the House of Representatives and the Senate) and various State legislatures including:

  1. A disproportionate number of Representatives in the House for rural states
  2. A disproportionate of seats in the House granted to Republicans
  3. Frequent control of the Senate

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, Congress was split into the House of Representatives and the Senate, with the former representing the people and the later representing the states. 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.

Party Politics

The founder founders were concerned about "factions" (i.e. political parties) and did not explicitly incorporate them into the constitution8 9 10. Many of the checks and balances built in the constitution assume that the different branches of the national government and various states would have somewhat antagonistic relationships; there are no measures specifically to prevent politicians of the same party coordinating across state boundaries or different branches of government.

One example of this is how more laws tend to be passed by Congress when a party controls the House, the Senate, and the Presidency compared to when power is shared between parties. (There's a minor but noticeable correlation between Congress's productivity11 and the party alignment of Congress and the White House.12)

More pertinent to this question, though, is the fact that Republicans have had control of the Senate for 17 out of the last 25 years. (Democrats controlled the Senate most of the time in the prior 60 years.) Given that Congress is becoming increasingly polarized13 and voting along party lines more frequently14, there's sufficient reason to be concerned that Republican Senators are promoting the party's agenda instead of representing their respective states.

Party politics is also part of the reason why some states can be dominated by one party or the other. A prime example of this is how little of a presence Republicans have in California now despite having been quite popular decades ago.15 This has been attributed to a number of factors, each which suggest that mainstream Republicans simply don't have a platform that appeals to a sufficient number of Californians. The same is true of Democrats in so-called "Red states." Positions that may make the two parties competitive at the national level often make them noncompetitive at the state and local levels.

Gerrymandering

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 control redistricting as desired. Using the latest information technology, they were able to gerrymander to an extent not previously seen.

Democrats can and do gerrymander districts as well, but it is less common for a number of reasons I will discuss soon.

(See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering.)

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 there is considerable inertia. As for preventing gerrymandering, this would be perceived as overreach by Congress; even if a law was passed, it might 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?

There's a lot of reasons why Americans aren't protesting this:

  • Americans on the whole aren't well educated about how the government operates and Republicans (and the political establishment as a whole) have plenty of incentive to keep it that way.
  • Rural voters have expressed a considerable amount of distrust towards urban voters; they are inclined to see Republican's advantages not as an unfair manipulation of elections but as a necessary protection from being overpowered by urban voters. (The assertion is that urban voters will consistently vote in ways contrary to what rural voters need and want.)
  • On a related note, despite the advantages described above, individual communities in rural areas tend to be neglected because it is not efficient nor politically expedient to spend government resources on them; this masks the collective power rural areas have.
  • The collective power of rural voters is further masked by the fact that Republicans often promote policies that have been proven ineffective at addressing the issues facing rural voters most. If voters in rural areas were prospering and getting everything they wanted and needed from Republicans, they might be more open to making some concessions.
  • Over the past few decades, Republicans have emphasized loyalty, ideological purity, and political dominance; Republican voters are often more concerned with promoting the party's agenda than ensuring the government accurately reflects the will of the people.
  • Republicans are more homogeneous than Democrats. Democrats who are too corrupt tend to be routed out by opposing factions within the party. The same tends not to happen with Republicans.
  • Democrats often represent groups that have historically been repressed and have little tolerance for unequal representation. The same is not true of Republicans.
  • Many states, such as California and New York, that are dominated by Democrats still have large areas that are extremely rural; voters in these areas are already dissatisfied with their state governments and would pass back hard if Democrats tried to get the same advantages that Republicans enjoy in states with no influential urban areas.
  • The situation of unfair representation hasn't quite reached the breaking point where it would take priority over other, more tangible issues that voters care about. Americans who care most about equal and fair representation above all else are rare. Also, its not something politicians and pundits generally talk about outside of the Electoral College.

TL;DR

Republican politicians have exploited a number of flaws in how the US government was structured to get a disproportionate amount of control. Those who support Republicans see this as a necessary protection against the influence of urban voters while those who oppose Republicans tend to prioritize other concerns. Until the majority of voters are aware of the advantages Republicans have and subsequently agree that such advantages should be eliminated, change is unlikely to happen.

Sources

  1. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-was-the-great-compromise.html
  2. https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1901-1950/The-Permanent-Apportionment-Act-of-1929/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California%27s_congressional_districts
  4. https://countryeconomy.com/countries/usa-states/compare/wyoming/california
  5. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/WY
  6. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/CA
  7. https://medium.com/@davetroy/is-population-density-the-key-to-understanding-voting-behavior-191acc302a2b
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federalist_No._10
  9. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Washington%27s_Farewell_Address#20
  10. https://www.history.com/news/founding-fathers-political-parties-opinion
  11. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/statistics
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_divisions_of_United_States_Congresses
  13. https://legacy.voteview.com/political_polarization_2015.htm
  14. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1065912917722233
  15. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/us/california-republicans-midterms.html
  • 1
    Having one source for a massive answer chock full of opinion isn't really sufficient. If you removed the blatantly partisan opinion bits, there's a lot of good and accurate information in your answer. – AHamilton Jan 6 at 9:12
  • 1
    I will admit that I am lacking in citations. Much of my answer is based on what I have read over the years and I'm not in the habit of collecting references. I'll add them as time permits. – Ohndei Jan 9 at 16:34
  • “Democrats who are too corrupt tend to be routed out by opposing factions within the party.“ LOL. The Democrats literally invented the party machine. “Hillary for prison” became a meme during the 2016 election for a reason. – nick012000 Jan 15 at 0:31
  • For Down voted this for the bias, motivate believe, and general attacks. – Drunk Cynic Jan 15 at 2:52
1

Summary: It's complicated. Results from the 2012 and 2006 elections show that, statistically, Democrats should have won all the seats, but results from the 2000 and 1994 elections show the Republicans should have won most (in 2000) or all (in 1994) of the seats. The problem cannot be resolved via simple statistical analysis (below).

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2012#Results_summary, of the 122,346,020 votes cast total, Democrats received 59,645,531 or 48.8% of the vote, Republicans received 58,228,253 or 47.6% of the vote, and the remaining 4,472,236 or 3.7% of the votes went to other candidates (%ages don't add to 100% due to rounding).

If Democrats received 48.8% of the vote in every district, and Republicans received 47.6% of the vote in every district, the Democrats would've won every seat.

However, probability doesn't work that way. If you flip a fair coin 100 times, it's highly unlikely to get exactly 50 heads: there's a 95% chance you'll get between 40 and 60 heads, a 99.5% chance you'll get between 30 and 70 heads, but there's even a small chance (0.5%) that you'll get fewer than 30 or more than 70 heads.

Let's apply this methodology (called the "binary distribution") to the problem at hand.

Because the binary distribution only applies when there are two choices, let's consider only major party (Democratic and Republican) votes. In this scenario:

  • There are a total of 117,873,784 cast for major parties.

  • Republicans received 58,228,253 or 49.40% of these votes

  • Democrats received the remaining 59,645,531 or 50.60% of these votes.

Let's now consider the House district with the fewest number of votes. According to http://uselectionatlas.org/FORUM/index.php?topic=255728.0 and backed up by http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/2016election/, this appears to be Texas's 33rd district with 126,369 votes.

NOTE: I didn't look at every single number if the PDF, nor did I confirm the validity of https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1oArjXSYeg40u4qQRR93qveN2N1UELQ6v04_mamrKg9g/edit#gid=0, but the argument below works even if the number is relatively close.

With 126,369 votes, you need 63,185 votes to win.

If the districts were evenly populated with Democratic and Republican voters nationwide, you'd expect 49.40% or ~62,425 voters in this district to vote Republican. Of course, the chances of that happening exactly is very low, so we also calculate the standard deviation which happens to be 125 in this case.

What are the chances of a Republican win? Since 63,185 is 760 or about 6 standard deviations above the average, the chances of a Republican victory are about one in a billion.

The chances are even smaller in districts with more voters. With roughly even distribution of Democrats and Republicans, the chance of Republicans winning even one seat are less than 1 in 2.3 million.

The results of the 2006 election are even more convincing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2006, since the Democrats won by a larger margin.

However, the results of the 2000 election (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2000) tell a different story. Without going through the gory math (available at https://github.com/barrycarter/bcapps/blob/master/STACK/bc-geovantage.m), the Democrats had only a 1.3% chance of winning a given district, so their winning 212 seats would be next to impossible, statistically speaking.

Going back even further: statistically, the Democrats had virtually no chance of winning a single seat in the 1994 election (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections,_1994), but actually won 204 seats.

Ultimately, the problem goes deeper than statistics. You could run the numbers on a state-by-state basis (allowing for state bias towards a candidate), but there's no good reason to believe states are a fundamental unit of bias: bias could occur at the county level, urban vs suburban level, etc.

  • I don't think this directly answers the question of geography...which does play into the house. Counties and cities are somewhat irrelevant as votes are based on districts. – user1530 May 1 '17 at 1:50
  • NOTE: for some reason, I thought House elections were only once every 6 years; my answer is still correct, but I'll try to improve it using the 2014 elections, which provide a more recent contrast. @blip I agree it doesn't really answer the question, but perhaps explains why the question is difficult. – barrycarter May 1 '17 at 3:04
  • Re "Since 63,185 is 760 or about 6 standard deviations above the average, the chances of a Republican victory are about one in a billion.": sorry, but it's not obvious how this result was arrived at. Please include more of the intermediate steps of this calculation. – agc Aug 18 '18 at 19:23
  • 1
    @agc I really need to improve my answer, and you are correct in saying I made a mistake in the math, although the general point remains the same. In the binomial distribution, the variance is n*p*(1-p), which is 126369*.4940*(1-.4940) or about 31587.7 in this case. The standard deviation is the square root of the variance, which is about 177.74 in this case. I mistakenly used 63185 as the population size. – barrycarter Aug 23 '18 at 15:23
1

House Control in Census Year Gives Gerrymandering Power
Republicans won a majority of seats in 2010. This was a census year, which happens every 10 years in the United States, and gives the party controlling the House redistricting power. House Republicans used this opportunity to gerrymander congressional districts in their favor -- an advantage that would last from 2012 through 2020.
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/republicans-gerrymandering-house-representatives-election-chart/

Project REDMAP
Project REDMAP describes the Republican effort to gerrymander congressional districts after 2010 using new software to help optimize their partisan advantage.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REDMAP

Since 2010, these have been the outcomes of House of Representatives races, helping to illustrate the margin of their advantage.

Year: 2012
Democratic votes: 59,645,531. Share of major party votes: 50.6%
Democratic seats: 201. Share of House seats: 46.2%
Republican votes: 58,228,253. Share of major party votes: 49.4%
Republican seats: 234. Share of House seats: 53.8%
Republican advantage: 4.4% more seats than proportional

Year: 2014
Democratic votes: 35,624,357. Share of major party votes: 47.1%
Democratic seats: 188. Share of House seats: 43.2%
Republican votes: 40,081,282. Share of major party votes: 52.9%
Republican seats: 247. Share of House seats: 56.8%
Republican advantage: 3.9% more seats than proportional

Year: 2016
Democratic votes: 61,776,554. Share of major party votes: 49.4%
Democratic seats: 194. Share of House seats: 44.6%
Republican votes: 63,173,815. Share of major party votes: 50.6%
Republican seats: 241. Share of House seats: 55.4%
Republican advantage: 4.8% more seats than proportional

Year: 2018
Democratic votes: 60,572,245. Share of major party votes: 54.1%
Democratic seats: 235. Share of major party seats: 53.8%
Republican votes: 50,861,970. Share of major party votes: 45.6%
Republican seats: 199. Share of major party seats: 45.9%
Republican advantage: 0.3% more seats than proportional

Therefore, after 2010, all four election cycles have broken in the Republican party's favor, by an average of 3.35% more than a proportionate distribution of seats.

-1

The Voting Rights Act is a major factor in this issue. In many states and counties, the federal government has required that a quota of districts be set up that are easily winnable by blacks, or by hispanics, or by a coalition of the two. This quota makes it much harder for white Democrats to be elected.

Gerrymandering is most glaring when it turns an evenly split populace into districts that result in a legislature that is very unbalanced. The opposite of gerrymandering is most glaring when it deprives a uniformly distributed minority party of any legislative seats. The Voting Rights Act seeks to prevent the latter phenomenon from happening to "protected" minorities.

Take a hypothetical jurisdiction. Suppose:

  • 30 % are in minorities "protected" by the Voting Rights Act.
  • 70 % are not in these minorities.

Suppose that jurisdiction-wide elections are competitive -- Close to a 50 / 50 split between Democrats and Republicans.

For many years, Democrats have won about 60%-70% of Hispanic votes, and 85-95% of black votes. Suppose that in our hypothetical jurisdiction, the "protected" minority vote is split 25 - 5. For the jurisdiction-wide elections to be competitive, this implies that the remaining vote is split 25 - 45.

As implemented (though not necessarily as written), the Voting Rights Act causes about 30% of the legislative seats to be easily won by protected-minority Democrats. Notice that a disproportionate number of Democrats are in these districts. This means that unless the remaining Democrats concentrate in enclaves, non-minority Democrats are both unlikely to win in the minority districts (by design), and are unlikely to win in the non-minority districts (because they are a spread-out political minority).

For two generations, ambitious white politicians (in jurisdictions subject to Voting Rights Act quotas) have been noticing the handicap that white Democrats face in getting elected to legislative positions. There has been a tendency (once Republicans become a majority of the white population) for white politicians to switch from the Democratic party to the Republican party. This tendency causes affected states to "snap" from having legislatures that are dominated by Democrats (with the minority seats plus about half of the non-minority seats) to being dominated by Republicans (with most of the non-minority seats).

  • The last paragraph is an interesting theory but is there any data to back up that theory as being a broad trend as opposed to 1-2 random figures? – user4012 May 5 '17 at 13:36
  • Please cite this "quota" you reference. – user1530 Jun 21 '17 at 4:55

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