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!