Democrats’ grief over this year’s election has focused on their losses in the Senate, but their losses in the House of Representatives are much worse. While the Senate could be regained by the Democrats in a couple of years, retaking the House may take a decade or more.
Democrats May Win Senate in 2016
Most of the senators in the third of Senate that was up for election this year were elected in the Democratic wave led by Barack Obama in 2008 as he inspired young voters to come to the polls and defeat John McCain.
However, young voters are not consistent voters. They tend to turn out in much larger number for presidential elections. In this year’s off-year election, the youth failed to come out in great numbers, so most of these swing seats slipped out of Democratic hands giving control of the Senate to the Republicans. Democrats are disappointed by this outcome, but at least for the Senate their setback might only be temporary.
The batch of Senators up for election in 2016 is dominated by the Republicans who benefited from the Republican wave of 2010, so if the Democrats can get their base to turn out to the polls again in a presidential election year they might be able to take back four or five seats and regain control of the Senate.
Gerrymandering Renders House Elections Nearly Irrelevant
All of the attention on the Senate has diverted many people’s attention from the House of Representatives. After the 2010 census, Republicans used their control of numerous state legislatures and governorships, and sophisticated redistricting technology to craft congressional districts to their liking for the 2012 presidential election.
As a result, even though Obama was reelected and more people voted for Democratic congressional candidates than for Republican candidates (59.6 million to 58.2 million), the Republicans actually won more seats than the Democrats (242 to 193), and Republican John Boehner (OH-8) replaced Democrat Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) as Speaker of the House.
Indeed, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s analysis of the 2012 election showed that the redistricting gave the Republicans a 7.5% head-start in the House elections. In other words, without a Democratic landslide the Republicans would be able to seize control of the House. If the Democrats need to beat the Republicans by 7.5% just to break even, then we have lost sight of the idea of majority rule.
This year we conducted a similar analysis of election results. If we magically sprinkled Democratic voters across the country, this year Democrats would have needed a 10% margin in order to have regained control.
In fact, the Democrats lost the popular vote by an 8% margin, but the game was rigged so efficiently by gerrymandering that even if the shoe had been on the other foot and the Democrats had won the popular vote by 8% that would not have been sufficient for them to win back control of the House.
While the Democrats have high hopes of electing Hillary Clinton or another Democrat as president and perhaps regaining a majority in the Senate, they have virtually no chance of getting control of the House of Representatives until 2022, and even that will require significant gains by the Democrats in local state politics, and popular support for reform in the arcane world of redistricting.