If you watch carefully this fall you will be able to see a travesty of democracy. If you assume no changes in either party’s fortunes between now and November, and if you factor in historical Congressional losses for a President’s party at mid-term – you would predict Democratic gains sufficient to give them a comfortable majority in the next Congress.
It is not going to happen.
Charlie Cook, THE election expert, developed a model that predicts just a 10-seat Democratic gain. After he throws in a 4-seat “margin of error”, the Democrats are still one seat short of a majority.
Why? A variety of factors, of course. Nothing is simple in this town.
But the major factor is the redistricting done after the 2000 census. In most cases it soldered incumbents into their seats. Only about 35 seats out of the 435 are even in-play. In the past three elections 98% of incumbents who were running were re-elected. In 2002, only 36 incumbents won by margins as small as 10% or less.
John Fund, writing at Opinion Journal.com and quoted in The Washington Times on April 11th said, “Incumbent-protection devices and gerrymandering districts are likely to minimize GOP losses.”
Charlie Cook has said that structural barriers – these distorted district lines being one – are protecting Republican majorities “like seawalls.”
Our concern here is not which partisan groups benefit. The concern is that the voters ought to have a good shot at changing the Congress when they want to. That was the whole idea of the Founding Fathers, especially regarding the House.
Had this kind of incumbent bias been in place in 1994, the Gingrich revolution – for all its preparation and brilliance – would have been much harder to achieve. The Contract with America might never have been signed. What turned out to be a national landslide would have been a far closer election.
That’s what the travesty is: even if Americans overwhelmingly want change, their chances of seeing it are greatly diminished by the redistricting in 2000.
We need to focus long and hard on how to change that. And we’ll look at one outstanding proposal in our next 2¢ worth.