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« Quotational Therapy: Part 76 -- Jean-Baptiste Say, On Taxation. | WILLisms.com | Germany Gave Secret Help During Iraq Invasion »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 278 -- Less Competitive Congressional Districts.

Safe Seats-

Do Democrats have a chance to take back the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994?

The succinct answer: No.

There just aren't many competitive districts.


There may once again be more competitive districts, but not this time around.

...the number of competitive races for House seats has dwindled in recent years from a high of 111 competitive races in 1992 to a low of 32 in 2004. While 32 sounds like an ominously small number, it is not that much smaller than the mere 37 races that were up for grabs in 1988. Two years later the number of competitive races swelled to 57, by Cook's calculations, and in 1992 it jumped again to its recent high of 111.

The percentage of safe seats has gone way up in recent years.


Chalk some of it up to post-2000 Census redistricting/gerrymandering. Chalk most modern gerrymandering up to the Voting Rights Act. In order to guarantee a certain number of "minority-majority" districts, oddly enough, cartographers must draw the lines such that the adjacent districts then become whiter, more conservative, and more safe for Republicans.

Ironically, although the Voting Rights Act essentially requires map makers to guarantee the election of enough African-Americans to Congress, this same process ends up boosting the number of "win the primary and you're in" GOP districts.

But chalk much of this phenomenon of more safe districts up to the fact that people are increasingly self-selecting their districts based on partisanship and ideology. Young liberals are moving to hip urban centers to blissfully commune with one another on various modes of public transportation. Married people with kids (who tend to be more conservative) are moving to the safe suburbs, with their good schools and larger homes. And so on.

In many ways, Americans increasingly seem to want their own Congressional districts to be safe seats. Many Americans are concentrating into safe Congressional districts because they want to be around like-minded people. It just makes life easier. And it makes the task of forecasting the 2006 midterms much easier.

Pew Research Center.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Democrats Love Them Some Lobbyist Cash.

Posted by Will Franklin · 24 February 2006 10:12 AM


Nice research, Will. I am in favor of letting the Voting Rights act sunset. It would probably lead to more representation, not less. It would, however probably be a looser for the Democrats in several ways.

Posted by: Chief RZ at February 24, 2006 10:37 AM

In a lot of ways, the strangehold the Democratic Party has on the African-American vote will remain until the Voting Rights Act ends. As long as the VRA exists, there really cannot be any change there.

But if and when the Voting Rights Act ends, in the immediate aftermath, Democrats would actually likely gain anywhere from 2 to 8 House seats (short-term), depending on the prevailing political winds.

So it's slightly odd that it's mostly conservative Republicans who want to get rid of it, while liberal Democrats will fight tooth and nail to keep it. I guess everyone can see the long-term writing on the wall.

Posted by: Will Franklin at February 24, 2006 10:51 AM


You are in Texas and this was the source of the huge partisan battle of Legislative Redistricting a couple of years back. The Democrats that fled the state over Gerrymandering were concerned over this very issue, but in a strange way.

I am trying to understand how the effects of a law that their party supports that forces the strange and often counterintuitive boundries to be drawn, yet empowers the duly elected state representatives to draw them, only becomes a problem when the lines are not drawn by the Democrats. They created the damned system at the Federal level, and now based on the changing makeup of the Texas state legislature which went from 70% Dem twenty years ago to something like 60% Republican now, they are getting their just desserts.

You create laws to "fix" the problems with underrepresentation of certain districts and people and when society changes, your laws have unintended consequences. See Social Security, Medicare, etc., for examples of programs that failed to take into account that as long as we live in a Democracy and have freedom of movement, let the market determine things. This was a bad idea whose time has come and these sort of issues along with the Electoral College's version of safe states (see Idaho and Utah or California and New York), the idea of safe Congressional Districts simply suppresses voter turnout. So we get fewer blacks voting because of the voter rights act.

Posted by: Justin B at February 24, 2006 11:16 AM