Things Aren’t as Bad as They Seem (for Republicans)

There’s an interesting piece in last Sunday’s liberal rag New York Times Magazine on the current state of things in American politics. Frankly, it was a little disturbing for me. Not because

Despite losing the popular vote in 2000 and facing one of the most closely divided electorates in United States history, George W. Bush has governed largely to please his base, allied with a G.O.P. majority committed to goals that were demonstrably out of line with middle-of-the-road voters’ views on many issues. In recent decades, Republican politicians and activists have moved considerably to the right. The median Republican senator of the early 70’s, for example, was significantly to the left of the current G.O.P. maverick John McCain. Today, however, the typical Senate Republican is situated just shy of the ultraconservative Senator Rick Santorum. Meanwhile, the median voter remains in roughly the same ideological location. Yet the G.O.P. has still managed to win elections and pursue many of its key aims without dislodging the pendulum from its rightward position.

Although that’s distressing enough.

No, what really worried me was this:

Surprisingly, the electoral battlefield is also quite tilted in the House. Congressional districts are roughly equal in population. But Republicans are helped by the fact that Democratic voters are more tightly packed together. In 2004, for example, Bush won 50.7 percent of the popular vote. But because he typically lost by large margins in Democratic districts and won by smaller margins in Republican districts, he came out ahead in nearly 59 percent of the nation’s Congressional districts. By the same token, the Republicans could retain control of the House next year even if the majority of voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, the G.O.P. has padded its lead by aggressively redrawing the Congressional map. Between 2000 and 2004, redistricting created roughly a dozen new Republican-leaning districts nationwide.

Not only do Republicans get more seats per vote; almost all the seats they hold are also very safe. The last two elections have seen the fewest incumbents defeated by challengers in all of American history – four in 2002 and five in 2004. In 2004, the average margin of victory for House incumbents was 40 percentage points. Incumbency advantage is often blamed on gerrymandering. But a bigger cause is money. Between 1974 and 2002, the amount spent by successful House challengers rose from $100,000 (in 2002 dollars) to $1.5 million. And money isn’t equally distributed between the parties. Over the last decade, Republicans have cultivated close ties to deep-pocketed donors and special-interest groups. They have also developed a highly institutionalized system of intercandidate giving, in which party members and their PAC’s donate to other Republicans to keep the majority in power. Republicans didn’t invent these strategies, but they have raised them to a new level of effectiveness.

In other words, one side– once it got into power– has managed to lodge itself in to the point where it’s going to be difficult to remove. Sort of like a tick.

This worries me. And yes, Stu, it would worry me if it were far-left Dems in power, too. The problem, it seems, is the districting/redistricting thing. Of course, politicians like it because it keeps them in power. But personally, I hate voting in a district where my Representative (whom I’m not a fan of!) gets 80+% of the vote!

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4 thoughts on “Things Aren’t as Bad as They Seem (for Republicans)

  1. Not to write off an entire newspiece (not to mention a blog) because of the opening claim, but it’s hard to lend credibility to an article that begins with this obviously off-base:“Despite losing the popular vote in 2000 and facing one of the most closely divided electorates in United States history, George W. Bush has governed largely to please his base, allied with a G.O.P. majority committed to goals that were demonstrably out of line with middle-of-the-road voters’ views on many issues.”This is just laughable. Where has GWB been on…Immigration?Medicare?No Child Left Behind? (authored by Ted Kennedy and anathema to most of GWB’s base).Foreign Aid to Africa?There are plenty of issues I can use to prove that GWB has governed AWAY from his base. In fact, if the editorial board of the NYT ever looked anywhere other than their own paper they would see (in the pages of the National Review or the American Spectator) widespread dismay among core Republicans (of which I am not one) who feel that Bush has “talked right and governed left-center”.

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  2. True. I was more concerned about the entrenched (did I even spell that correctly?) Congress. I assume that are telling the truth that the last two Rep elections saw the fewest incumbent losses ever. EVER.What concerns me is that with the districting situation as it is (See: Delay, Tom), one side can freely act in theocracy-friendly ways and not worry about being voted out of power by mainstream Americans because they’re voted all gerrymandered away!

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  3. I also love this sequence: “But a bigger cause is money. Between 1974 and 2002, the amount spent by successful House challengers rose from $100,000 (in 2002 dollars) to $1.5 million. And money isn’t equally distributed between the parties. Over the last decade, Republicans have cultivated close ties to deep-pocketed donors and special-interest groups. They have also developed a highly institutionalized system of intercandidate giving, in which party members and their PAC’s donate to other Republicans to keep the majority in power.”(1) “Republicans have cultivated close ties to deep-pocketed donors and special interest groups?” LOL. Of course they have. And so have Democrats. With equal energy if not equal effectiveness. In fact Democratic dependence on special interest groups and lobbies is quite manifestly at complete as the Republicans.(2) “Money isn’t equally distributed between the parties.” For real?!?! When has it been? What a revelation. This has cut both ways over the years.

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  4. Sorry, Stu, my last comments were obnoxious, so I erased them.Anyhow, more to the point:A) Your comment “and so have Democrats…” is sort of silly, since in the very next sentence after the block you quote, they say the exact same thing.B) You suggest that Dems are just as good at getting money as Reps, but this is contradicted by…C) Your sarcastic remark that the parties don’t have equal distribution of money. Which, by the way, missed the point. Their argument wasn’t that is was unevenly distributed. Rather, their point was that having money is more important NOW for winning than is was in, say, 1974. So the side which AT PRESENT happens to have more money is better able to stay in power without catering to the middle.

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