38% Of Congressmen Represent “Safe” Districts
Chris Cillizza passes along some facts that explain a lot about why the House of Representatives is in the state it is currently in:
Looking for the roots of the current morass in Washington? Look no further than the chart — built by the WaPo graphics wizards — below that shows the percentage of the vote that all House Members won with in the 2012 election.
The math is stark. Of the 199 Democrats in the House at the start of the 113th Congress, a majority — 51 percent(!) — won their race with 67 percent of the vote or higher. Among the 234 Republicans elected in the last election, 67 — or roughly 29 percent of the GOP conference — won with 67 percent or higher.
Add it up and you have 168 seats in which the current incumbent won with 67 percent or more of the vote. That’s 38 percent of the entire House with virtually no concern about losing a general election.
Those numbers are even more remarkable when stood against the paltry group of seats that are genuinely competitive between the parties. In the 2012 election just 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats won their seats with 54 percent of the vote or less — just 14 percent of the entire House.
In short: There are almost three times as many members elected with 67 percent or more as there are elected with 54 percent of the vote or less. Given that data, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the incentive to cooperate with the other side and find bipartisan solutions is almost nil.
This is a phenomenon I’ve touched upon before, most recently yesterday. In another post, I noted the fact that the steep drop off in the number of swing districts — from 103 in 1992 to just 35 in 2012, drop of some 66% in just 20 years — has contributed to political gridlock. Of course, high re-election rates for incumbents has been a long term historical fact even when there were fewer “safe” seats. In 2012, for example, 90% of House incumbents and 91% of Senate incumbents who sought re-election were successful. Members of Congress notice these things, of course, and since the biggest form of feedback that they get are election results, the fact that they are consistently re-elected, quite often by huge margins, tells them that they’re doing just fine. As long as that’s the case, it’s unlikely that many on Capitol Hill are going to change their behavior.