The Washington Post

Gerrymanders didn't cost Democrats the House

Liberals are keenly aware that Democratic candidates received more votes for the House of Representatives than did Republican candidates, but of course Republicans retained a fairly healthy margin (which looks as if it will be 234-201 when all the votes are finally counted). Moreover, liberals have a likely cause: vicious partisan gerrymanders by Republicans, especially Republican majorities elected in the 2010 landslide.

A reasonable theory… but the overall evidence apparently doesn’t support it. Political scientist Eric McGhee ran the numbers and discovered that Democrats probably would have done better, but not much better, using the old districts.

If it’s not gerrymanders, what is it? Probably a combination of incumbency helping keep any majority party in the House in place, plus inefficient distribution of where Democrats live. As McGhee says, Democrats “ ‘waste’ votes on huge margins [in cities], when the party could put many of those votes to better use in marginal seats.”

Granted, for some the bottom line is still that there were more votes for Democrats than for Republicans. For others, all that really matters is who was elected, not national totals, which (just like the national vote for president) don’t really matter and which no one is directly attempting to maximize anyway. And those who believe that districting should be done by nonpartisan groups can make that case regardless of the particular circumstances of the 2012 outcome.

Still, it’s worth getting these things right. Hey, liberals, feel free to brag about those national vote totals all you want but don’t blame partisan gerrymanders for the Democratic minority in the House. We’ll get more analysis over time, but for now the evidence is what it is.

And yes: This is probably a good test of whether liberals only embrace what political scientists say when it’s convenient. Early returns? Test passed.


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