How is it that Republicans so easily control Congress? Will their house of cards blow over? Before 1954 when state’s were able to apportion (divide up) legislative districts without having to create legislative districts with equal numbers of voters it was easy for the rural party to stay in control. When it came time to draw up legislative districts, after the ten year Census, they simply created small population rural districts and large population urban districts. If, for instance, a state had 51 rural districts with one-third of the state’s population in them and 49 urban districts with two-thirds of the states population in them farmers with one-third of the state’s votes would control the state legislatures.
The Supreme Court took much of the rural advantage in state legislative reapportionments away in 1954 by ruling that states had to create voting districts with equal populations. The doctrine was called “one-man-one-vote.” This assured that cities began to run the state legislature and since urban areas tended to be Democratic strongholds it meant Democrats enjoyed a generation of control of many legislative bodies including the US. House of Representatives. A generation later suburban and exurban areas which had sprouted since that 1954 ruling began to change the political alchemy as those residents were much less inclined to be Democratic. For the past decade Republicans have assured themselves control of Congress even though the voting public is split evenly 30% Republican, 30 % Democrat, 30% independent? If Republicans are in control of a legislature after the census they draw up Democratic districts which tend to be 80% Democratic, 20% Republican. The Republican seats however, give themselves districts that are 60% Republican and 40% Democratic which in normal years is still pretty safe, especially for an incumbent.
You can see the strategy on a map. By allowing rural red areas to poach just enough urban blue democratic votes to pad the rural districts Republicans get more districts. Of course when Democrats are in control of the legislature they do just the opposite and poach just enough rural Republican votes to pad their urban Democratic districts leaving fewer heavily concentrated Republican districts. This strategy, however, puts the party on top at peril when the voting public gets upset because the people in power are more vulnerable during a landslide.
For instance this year while even the most unpopular Democrat is unlikely to lose when fellow Democrats compose 80% of his district’s voters a Republican with only 60% of his voters being Republican could easily see a 10% swing putting him in a 50%-50% race. Right now Congress’s approval rating is hovering at about 25% and it’s easy to forecast lots of 50/50 congressional races. The swing comes largely from the 30% of voters who consider themselves independent. Right now independents have very little patience with Republicans. When the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994 they were in a similar position. Three months of high summer gas prices, lingering bad news in Iraq, and Republicans divided on whether to court Hispanic votes or send 11 million illegals packing to Mexico are just a few of the irritations that will likely be on voters minds next November. A lot of those 60/40 Republican districts will be 50/50. No wonder the Democrats are feeling their oats. We Democrats that is. Any one for Oatmeal?