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How To Get A Wave Majority With A Ripple Vote

November 1st, 2014, 10:15am by Sam Wang

New Yorker:
Republicans will probably win the national House popular vote, but even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t matter. Why not? In The New Yorker, I discuss gerrymandering (a big cause) and population patterns (a smaller cause).

Tags: 2014 Election · House

15 Comments so far ↓

  • Canadian fan

    Excellent and revealing article, Sam. The Republican gerrymander of post 2010 has inflicted long-term damage to the whole concept of representational democracy, leaving the House of Representatives the most polarized and dysfunctional in living memory. The great irony of the GOP gerrymander post 2010, though, is that it has come to bite them in the foot in a way no one saw coming. By creating districts that were impervious to public opinion, they have inadvertently engineered a new threat to GOP incumbency, not from without, but from within. GOP congressman now find that their incumbency is continually threatened – not by Democrats – but through GOP primaries, where they are challenged invariably from the far right. This in turn provides enough incentive to push the party ever further to the right, and ever further from a public who has been effectively muzzled through the gerrymander. In short, it actually helps neither Republicans nor Democrats. And more sadly, the public has been left far behind, and without ballot recourse to correct, outside of a near super-majority.

    • Olav Grinde

      I totally agree!

      The GOP gerrymandering that followed the 2010 election has to be one of the most underreported stories of American politics. And unfortunately one of the least understood.

      Sam’s articles/posts are the most lucid and edifying I have seen on this topic.

  • JayBoy2k

    Gerrymandering has been a exploited political tool for over 200 years. Seems that a then unknown state senator from Illinois redrew the maps for his own benefit in 2001.
    There is likely a self-correcting mechanism that will apply over time. The party in control of the state legislature get to decide the boundaries after each 10 year census.
    We have heard many times how the Republican party is in a demographic death spiral. Is there some natural mechanism that prevents Democrats from investing and winning majorities at the State Legislature levels? Win at those levels and it will be Democrats who will be deciding redistricting to benefit their candidates or not.

    • Murray

      JayBoy2K, when the Republicans redrew the districts after the 2010 wave, that also applies to state legislature districts. That’s why those are going GOP now as well. The Nevada Senate, the Kentucky House, the NH Senate, and many more are likely to go GOP Tuesday. 2010 will haunt this country for years to come.

    • securecare

      As Texans (well some of them) demonstrated a few years ago it might be possible to not have to wait for the full 10 years.

      UGH !!!

  • JayBoy2k

    Here is a link with lots of data and facts about state legislatures from 2008 to 2014 elections.
    So Democrats “owned” 62 state legislatures just 4 years ago, likely in response to GWB policies and Wars. Then we had a 2010 “wave” election where voters decided to switch more than 20 legislatures to Republican control.
    I tend to take the long view and I prefer the 2-party system where both parties are about evenly matched.
    When either party significantly angers or disappoints the voting public, the moderates/independents will join the out-party and throw the incumbents out — that “wave” is far more powerful in political history than gerrymandering.
    In the fullness of time, I expect that Ds will once again control the majority of state legislatures because Republican policies will fail to satisfy voters — and the cycle will repeat.

  • Alan Koczela

    Nice article, but you seem to contradict your thesis when you mention that, after theoretically creating compact districts, population clustering may still have produced the same strange result in 2012. (i.e., R losing the Congressional popular vote but controlling the House.) This seems to suggest population clustering is more of a problem than gerrymandering. I’m not sure that was your argument’s main point.

    BTW, speaking of ripples, the meta-margin is breaking toward the south shore again. Unless the new/unaffiliated early voters wash up on the D side, this could be the beginning of the end for the Senate Majority Leader Reid. (Of course, he may still survive leading the D caucus, but I wouldn’t bet on it.)

    • Matthew

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Reid doesn’t run for reelection if Rs win the Senate. Sandoval will probably run in 2016 and every indication is he would beat Reid, especially if Reid is no longer majority leader.

  • RPF

    Gerrymandering slows up the democratic process but should make no long-run difference. After all, the Rs, for example, have to win a statehouse in order to gerrymander – it’s not just luck.

  • Canadian fan

    Gerrymandering that results in any party controlling an institution with a minority of the vote ceases to be democratic by any and all definitions – short-term or long-term. Only once before in America’s over two hundred year history – prior to 2012 – has the House ever been controlled through a minority mandate. And it’s set now for perpetuity. What Murray says is absolutely spot-on. The GOP legislatures are governed by the same gerrymander, so good luck getting any control of those. ( And really, is counter-gerrymandering seriously the solution ? ) Add to that 17 GOP legislatures since 2000 have passed voting laws that make it harder to register, not easier. And even those who manage to register with all these restrictions in place can still have their right to vote thrown out ( as with Georgia recently and 40,000 duly registered Americans ). Add all this up, and it leads to a plutocracy, not a democracy.

    • wendy fleet

      Can fan — Will you please invent a word for giga-plutocracy — whatever that would be in Greeklish.
      Also, saw Sam’s sanity on Steve Kornacki MSBC and felt vaguely rational. Unlike seeing NYT’s Upshot Saturday which (to me) made IA, as an example, seem hugely hopeless for progressives rather than nearer the mid-term often considerably inaccurate-polling ‘wyrd window.’ This difference in perspective has massive repercussions. I happen to be an activist. I phoned into NC IA etc for 10 hours on Saturday and when I saw Upshot, I just felt stunned useless and hopeless. Now, I *may* indeed be useless & hopeless and therefore I should just shrug. But I repaired the hatchet-to-the-chest gaping and spurting wound and will phone again tomorrow — but *I* am a seasoned rhino-thick-hided stubborn old cuss. I worry about the despair for folk less JohnLewised re the beloved community, re making it a kinder not a crueler world.. (John Lewis D-GA, beaten near to death on the bridge in Selma, says we don’t get to quit.)
      Obviously pollsters or Pollmageddon aggregators don’t need to bolster me, but when they assume a certainty which I think Sam eschews, I wish the pre-ordaining consequences of that weren’t so daggone dire . . .

    • RPF

      The US has lots of ‘slow adjustment’ impediments to true democracy, e.g., 6-years terms for the Senate and 4-years terms for the White House. SCOTUS is the prime institutional example, but the whole govt is largely populated by long-serving civil servants. Our govt was set up to thwart the idea of ‘we want change and we want it now.’ I think of the underlying unwritten Constitutional Amendment as “Be Patient.”

  • davey

    Great article! It, of course, motivated me to make a spreadsheet (like we nerds are prone to do). I took states and divided them into groups of non-partisan redistricting, Dem-controlled and Rep-controlled. I counted total House votes in 2012 to see how they broke down.

    In our 22 non-partisan districting states, Democrats win about 63% of the House seats with 57% of the popular vote. This group represents 163 seats, or 37% of the House.

    In the remaining 28 states, where redistricting is partisan, the party that controls districting on either side gets about 72% of the seats.

    Dems control six states’ districting, or 44 seats (10% total seats). They won 70% of these with 59% of the vote. If we applied % seats won from non-partisan districting states to these, adjusting for popular vote differences, it appears Dems attained 3 extra seats due to partisan districting. Shame on them.

    Reps control 22 states, or 228 seats (52%). They won 72% of these with 55% of the vote. Applying our same non-partisan vote-per-seat formula, it appears Republicans in this state gain 24 seats. Shame on them, x800%.

    Republicans win 54% of the seats with 49.5% of the popular vote, Dems get 46% of seats with 50.5% of the vote. Double-checking my little “gerrymandering seat gain” calculations, if we flipped the 3 and 24 seats we would have a House that is 214 Rep, 221 Dem. Reps would own 49.2% of seats with their 49.5% of the vote, Dems 50.8% of seats with their 50.5% of the vote.

    Not surprisingly, the hardest way of getting elected is to be a Dem in a Republican-controlled districting state, where it take 443,000 votes per Dem seat compared to 217,000 votes per Rep seat.

    This data suggests that gerrymandering works really well, and that moving more states to non-partisan districting methods should be a top priority for those wishing House representation to reflect popular votes in their respective states.

  • Savanna

    I hear California has a non partisan method of forming their districts. It certainly is one of the pieces needed to restore an ailing democratic process.

  • BJ

    One factor that doesn’t seem to get mentioned regarding Gerrymandering is what about Democrats’ chances for House races in Blue States? For example, California has independent redistricting now and the 49th district is not as conservative as it used to be. Apparently Darrell Issa hasn’t even campaigned in his home district this election and Democrat Dave Peiser is working hard to get out the vote with a grass roots effort. What are your thoughts about why Democrats haven’t concentrated on unseating Republican representatives in Blue States instead of fretting about Gerrymandering in Red States where they have no chance of winning? It seems that in California alone there are several House seats that could flip from Republicans to Democrats if the Democratic Party focused on them instead of lost cause races in Red States. Any thoughts on this?

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