How Republicans Control Congress After Democrats Received More Votes

Bloomberg  looks at how the Republicans have kept control of the House despite more people voting for Democratic representatives:

More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress.

A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.

Graphic: 2010 Gains Give Republicans Redistricting Edge

The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

This is a rare event:

Still, it’s rare for one party to win more House seats while securing fewer votes than the other party. The last time it happened before 2012 was in 1996, when Democrats won the nationwide House vote by 43.6 million to 43.4 million as Republicans held their majority and Bill Clinton was re-elected president, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s office.

Redistricting is intended to ensure House members represent roughly equal size populations. Yet from the first Congress, party leaders began exploiting the map-making exercise by weakening the voting strength of some groups to gain partisan advantage, a practice known as gerrymandering.

The greater concentration of Democratic voters in cities also adds to the Republican advantage in House seats. Having more voters concentrated in smaller areas leads to having a smaller number of districts where your candidate will win by large majorities, while the other party might have narrow victories in many other districts. When this gerrymandering is added to this dynamic, the Republicans have had the opportunity to pick up significantly more seats than they would receive if Congressional delegations were strictly proportional to the vote.

The Founding Fathers did not want a pure democracy, but I wonder if they would be happy with this outcome. We have seen occasions such as 2000 a president was elected while losing the popular vote. (2000 also provided even more disturbing problems with the Supreme Court blocking a recount along partisan lines). The Senate is even more intentionally undemocratic, giving the Republicans an advantage by giving small states where they dominate as many Senators as states with much larger populations. Republicans have further exploited their advantage by using the filibuster in ways  never intended to require sixty percent to pass virtually anything.  Historically the House has provided a more democratic outcome, more representative of the voters, but this is no longer the case.