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:
- A disproportionate number of Representatives in the House for rural states
- A disproportionate of seats in the House granted to Republicans
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.