Fewer competitive seats and fewer misaligned seats could mean less turnover and fewer moderates in Congress
Nov. 5, 2012
Washington, D.C. – Recently drawn redistricting lines, put in place for the 2012 election, have the lowest number of competitive seats in 40 years, which could lead to lower turnover and fewer moderate voices in the House of Representatives, according to a new report released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Democracy Project.
The report, 2012 Redistricting: Will the House be More Polarized than Ever?, also found that the 2012 election will likely see a continuing drop in misaligned seats – those districts where the congress member of one party is elected, but the district also voted heavily for presidents of the other party. Twenty years ago many House seats were misaligned. With the newly drawn lines and November 2012 elections, the number of misaligned seats is expected to drop to a handful.
According to BPC’s analysis, both competitive seats and misaligned districts tend to elect members of Congress who are more middle-of-the-political-spectrum than the average member of their party. The effect is stronger for misaligned seats. The report stresses that a drop in competitive and misaligned seats will likely lead to more polarization and fewer moderate members.
“This report illustrates how far we have moved toward party polarization in Congress; with our new district lines in place, we’re likely to see more seats safely in the hands of one party and few members who are able to win in districts that favor the opposing party,” said former representative from Kansas (1977-1995) and former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a BPC senior fellow.
“Today’s partisan gridlock can be partially blamed on the polarization of the U.S. political party system,” said John Fortier, director of the BPC’s Democracy Project. “We have seen a historical decline in competitive and misaligned House seats, and the new maps will likely further this trend.”
Other report findings include:
The continued drop in misaligned seats will lead to less party turnover of House seats over the coming decade. In the 1990s, 36 seats changed party hands over the course of the decade because of the process of realignment, with another 26 following in the 2000s. With the number of these seats dwindling to nearly zero, we will likely see less turnover in the next decade.
Misaligned seats produced the most moderate members of Congress. Members of Congress who represented constituents who voted strongly for presidents of the opposing party made up a large fraction of the moderate members. For example, in 1992, 35 of the 50 most moderate Democrats in the House represented misaligned districts. The continued decline of these types of seats will mean fewer moderate voices in Congress.
The maps drawn for the 2012 election have produced slightly fewer competitive seats than did the round of redistricting that governed the 2000s and many fewer competitive seats than did the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
- In the 2000s, the number of districts created that were competitive or very competitive was 103.
- In the 2010s, the number of districts created that are competitive or very competitive is 101, a slight decline.
- The number of competitive seats for the 2010s is an all-time low for the past five decades. In the 1990s, 129 districts fit this definition. In the 1980s, 135, and in the 1970s, 152.
The redrawing of congressional district lines for this decade is complete, and is based on the results of the 2010 census. The lines drawn by legislatures, courts, and commissions will be in place for the 2012 congressional elections, and for the most part, these lines will remain in place until the 2022 congressional elections.
Because the 2012 maps have been completed, BPC felt it was a good time to assess how this latest round of redistricting unfolded, how it compares to redistricting maps put in place in past decades, and to gauge the effects the newly drawn maps will have on turnover and party polarization in the House of Representatives.
In particular, this new report looks at how many competitive and misaligned seats have been created. To do this, BPC examined all of the pre-2012 districts’ performances nationwide in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. It also looked at the “two party vote” in each district and at how the presidential vote in each district compared with the national presidential vote.
BPC also averaged the outcomes of the 2004 and 2008 elections. It then took the 2004 and 2008 election data and calculated how the new districts drawn for 2012 performed. BPC analysis broke down the districts into categories of very solid Republican or Democrat, solid Republican or Democrat, competitive, and very competitive. It analyzed those seats that BPC identified as competitive, and found that for the 2012 election, there is a slight drop in the number of competitive seats created.
Click here to read the full report.
BPC’s Democracy Project is a bipartisan initiative that analyzes and advocates for improvements to our democratic institutions. Co-chaired by former Secretaries Dan Glickman and Dirk Kempthorne and AOL co-founder Steve Case, the Democracy Project has assembled an Advisory Committee consisting of some of the nation’s top government, business, civic, military and academic leaders.
Democracy Project, 2012 Politics