Voters Gave Clean Sweep To Democrats

Since the Republicans kept control of the House, John Boehner claims that the Republicans won a mandate to suck the life out of the economy and transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy (which is not how he describes his party’s policies but the end result). This claim could be countered by Democrats arguing that more people voted for Democrats than Republicans in House races. The Economist calls the election a clean sweep for Democrats:

The Democrats won 50.6% of the votes for president, to 47.8% for the Republicans; 53.6% of the votes for the Senate, to 42.9% for the Republicans; and…49% of the votes for the House, to 48.2% for the Republicans (some ballots are still being counted). That’s not a vote for divided government. It’s a clean sweep.

Those who desire a true democracy would find this a problem, with similar problems seen in presidential elections (where a candidate can win based upon the electoral vote while losing the popular vote) and the Senate (where citizens of small state have greater representation per person than voters from large states). Typically the House has been more representative of the nation, often exaggerating representation based upon majority vote as opposed to providing the opposite result. There have also been times in the past when we have had the current situation: “Mr Gingrich’s team won re-election and a 26-seat majority in 1996, on 47.8% of the vote to 48.1% for the Democrats.”

Republicans have a majority in the House partially because of redistricting after the Republican victories in the 2010 elections. The problem isn’t entirely due to Republican gerrymandering. The fact that Democratic voters live more heavily in the cities would also lead to a lower number of members of Congress.

The Economist looked at possible solutions:

For at least the next two years, America will remain stuck with a gravely unrepresentative House of Representatives. Since Mr Obama will need the Republicans’ assent to prevent the economy from tipping back into recession, he probably cannot afford to antagonise them by publicly questioning the legitimacy of their majority in the lower chamber. The simplest way to restore the House’s democratic credibility would be a constitutional amendment adopting proportional representation. But that is both unrealistic and undesirable, since it would sever the link between individual members of Congress and their constituents that gives the House its vitality.

Barring such a drastic measure, it is up to the states to change their districting procedures one by one. Fixing the system would require solving an enormous collective-action problem. If states controlled by Democrats decide to appoint independent committees to draw boundaries but those run by Republicans do not, the GOP’s structural advantage in the House would only grow. (This is the same obstacle that supporters of a national popular vote for the presidency are trying to surmount.)

The only viable method for Democrats to reinstate the House’s democratic integrity is to win a healthy majority of state governments in 2020, threaten to gerrymander to their own advantage, and then use that leverage to extract a deal from state Republican parties for a non-partisan districting process. The Democrats have shown they have the support of a majority of voters across the country. But all politics is local, and they will have to do as well in the states as they do nationwide in order to get their just deserts in Congress.

On the other hand, if Obama does not receive cooperation from Congress, it might be to the advantage of Democrats to more aggressively campaign against them, taking advantage of the boost in Obama’s favorability ratings post-election to 58 percent.