Why Congress is so partisan — in 2 charts

A new national poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal shows that two-thirds of people want their politicians to compromise on taxes and entitlements in order to make a deal on the so-called "fiscal cliff".

And yet, despite those numbers, the word from Capitol Hill is the same as it ever was: the two sides continue to talk but remain far apart on critical pieces of any deal.

What gives? The truth is that many members have absolutely no incentive to compromise and, in many cases, have a political interest in moving closer to rather than further from partisan/party orthodoxy. 

Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation -- a Fix favorite -- we can make that point in two charts.

The first contrasts House Members who won with 55 percent or more of the vote  in November with those who won with less than 55 percent.

The second chart plots the winning percentages in November of every Member of Congress:

When you have 85 percent of the House winning with more than 55 percent of the vote, and large majorities of Members -- particularly on the Republican side -- winning with between 60 percent and 70 percent of the vote, the reason why compromise is so hard to come by becomes apparent.  

The biggest culprit here is redistricting -- the decennial re-drawing of congressional lines -- which over the past two decades has been defined, by in large, by the two parties looking to make as many non-competitive seats as possible by a) strengthening their own incumbents and b) packing members of the opposition party into as few -- albeit incredibly safe -- seats as possible.

What that means for most Members of Congress is that the only danger they face to holding their seat in perpetuity is losing a primary fight. That fact coupled with the recent defeats of peoples like Bob Bennett and Dick Lugar in Republican Senate primaries has a chilling effect on compromise.

(Sidebar: In "The Gospel According to the Fix" -- a great Christmas present for the political junkie in your life! -- we outline possible solutions to this problem including non-partisan redistricting and open primaries.)

So, while national polls continue to show that most people want compromise, the political reality for many Members is that the people they will ask for another term in two years time simply don't care all that much about working with the other side. And so, unfortunately, neither do they.

 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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Sean Sullivan · December 12, 2012

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