Under my previous analysis of electing House of Representative candidates by state popular vote I found that while Democrats would have won more seats – a Republican/Libertarian coalition would have maintained a majority under this methodology.
While that is still technically true, that model did not reflect the number of voters that either stayed home or skipped voting in House races because no major party candidate reflecting their views was running in that race. Thirty-seven of these races exist, eight of these in California.*
Under the updated model that accounts for estimates likely voter turnout for these minimally contested districts on either side (no GOP candidate or no Democrat candidate), I find that results shift just enough to give the Democrats a either a tie or a majority in the house under the state popular vote method and assuming that independents would caucus with them.
This exposes a more subtle result of gerrymandering that is generally overlooked – that re-districting has made some congressional districts so safe for one major political party that no candidate from the opposing party bothered to run. South Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District is an excellent example of this. Based on FairVote’s Monopoly Politics 2012 study it found that the 2nd District was previously divided by a 42/58 Democrat/Republican margin in 2010. However, after redistricting the margin is 36/64. This takes it from a “lean Republican” district to “safe Republican” district.
The 36% of Democrats still living in this bright red Republican districts matches up closely to the margin of voters I found to back the opposing party in a district that is heavily favored for a different party.
Despite the misconception that strongly Republican states or strongly Democratic states are uniform in their beliefs I observed that on average 37.23% of voters in these states will vote for the less popular party when given the opportunity. This number was developed by averaging the losing party vote across states that have more than a 20 point separation between their popular vote and representative election.
If I adjust the model such that minimally contested races where voters for the winner were not tallied are estimated to have amounted to average of nearby districts, and votes for a generic opposition candidate are assumed to be 37% of the victor’s total I find that the Democrats pick up four additional house seats over my previously estimated popular vote state model – bringing them 216 to the GOP’s 216.
This would either mean that the Democrats have the thinnest of majorities or no majority at all. (Fun fact – no one can break a tie in the House – the bill dies instead). But it shows that gerrymandering has given the GOP about a 30-seat swing.
This leads to why this matters in the future. For why this matters in the future, it is instructive to look to the past. In 2006 and 2008 the Democrats were swept to a healthy majority in the House. What changed? Voter enthusiasm.
Dean’s strategy is based on having as many campaign offices as possible so that people make neighborhood connections with the campaign. To do this in GOP territory requires enthusiastic supporters who live in the area. Given how Obama won swing states by narrower margins this time around and lost North Carolina it seems reasonable that while Obama still won most of these states, the voter enthusiasm levels were not high enough to support local offices in all of these locations and help down ballot races. Additionally, it can be argued that the President did less for down ballot House races this time than during the Obama wave of 2008.
Assuming the entire country doesn’t shift to state popular vote model before 2014 (which it won’t) – if I were a Democratic strategist I would look to build as much as enthusiasm as possible in close districts in red states around the country going into future elections.
*Eight of these races occurred in California that uses a primary system in which the two candidates with the most votes in the primary compete in the general election regardless of party. Several of these races featured Democrat versus Democrat, one GOP versus GOP, and a few more with Democrats versus third-party. If these races are excluded little to no change is found, maybe one seat less for the GOP. However, since inclusion of these races only inflates the GOP number fairly inaccurately it is largely irrelevant.