Noncompetitive House Elections

My ongoing crusade to spark thought and discussion on the quality of representation in the US Congress.

election-voter-people
Ben Highton at the Monkey Cage:

By our estimates, in 408 of the 435 House elections, one party is favored to win with chances that exceed 90 percent.  The Republicans have better than a 90 percent chance of winning in 231 races and the Democrats have a better than 90 percent chance of winning in 177.

408 of 435 is 93.8% of the House.

Now, as I have observed before, it is profoundly problematic that Congress can have an approval rating of 12.9% (RCP average) and have that many noncompetitive House races.  While approval ratings capture a lot of issues it is reasonable to posit that a significant part of the frustration with Congress is driven by the fact that many citizens find that their interests are not well represented in that body.  I would note that it is more complicated than the normal explanation that people like their own representatives, but not Congress as a whole.  While this is part of the situation more fundamentally it has to be understood that the problem is our electoral system.   Single seat districts with plurality winners create poorly representative outcomes (and, as I have noted before, the primary system does not help by directing candidate selection to a a small slice of the populace—candidates who automatically win noncompetitive elections).

And no, gerrymandering is not the main issue (although in some cases it certainly can matter).  For more on this see Matthew Shugart’s post from last year:  Distortions of the US House: It’s not how the districts are drawn, but that there are (single-seat) districts. Indeed, the conclusion from Shugart’s post is worth quoting here:

the single-seat district, plurality, electoral system simply does not work for the USA anymore. It is one thing if we really are representing district interests, as the electoral system is designed to do. But the more partisan a political process is, the more the functioning of democracy would be improved by an electoral system that represents how people actually divide in their partisan preferences. The system does not do that. It does even less well the more one of the major parties finds its votes concentrated in some districts (e.g. Democrats in urban areas). Gerrymandering makes the problem worse still, but the problem is deeper: the uneasy combination of a geography-based electoral system and increasingly distinct national party identities.

Now, I will readily grant that electoral reform is hardly on the table in the United States.  Further, it may never be (at least not in the foreseeable future).  However, I am at the point to where I think it is worth continually pointing out the problems the current system produces with the hope of at least sparking some readers to think about these issues.  I would love to see, at a minimum, an understanding that there are other ways for votes to become seats in the legislature (something I am confident that most Americans, even well educated ones, simply do not know).  Such an understanding does not have to translate into reform for me to be satisfied, but it would be nice to have an informed discussion.  At the moment we have no such conversation in the US save in very small academic enclaves.

One thing that ongoing teaching and research (especially in my new book, co-authored with the above mentioned Shugart and others) on this and related topics has demonstrated to me is that American’s high opinion of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution blinds them to a) learning about other systems, and (more significantly) b) being willing to have serious conversations about our possible shortcomings of our system.  A student asked me recently if Latin Americans view their constitutions the same way citizens of the US do.  I noted that while a great deal of respect is afforded to constitutions in Latin America and elsewhere in the world that there is nowhere in the world that I could think of that treated their constitutions with the near religious reverence that we do in the US.

I digress a bit here, insofar as our electoral system is not enshrined in the US Constitution.  However, the basics of single seat, plurality elections dates back to the beginning because, after, that is pretty much all that had been invented at the time (and, I would wager that most Americans probably think that the system to elect members of Congress is, in fact, found in the Constitution).  So while reverence for the Constitution is not, per se, the culprit here it is a proximate contributor.

In general I am always struck when I think about these things by the following fact:  we expect our football (or name your preferred sport) coaches  to constantly innovate and adapt to opponents so as to produce competitive outcomes.  Further, we constantly concern ourselves with competitiveness in the marketplaces (indeed, the mantra of free marketeers  is that competition makes everything better for everyone).  And yet, we blithely accept wholly noncompetitive electoral contests for what is allegedly supposed to be a shining example of representative government.

At any rate:  these are issues worth thinking about if, in fact, one cares about the quality of representation of the body that makes the laws and sets the budgets of the country.

I will conclude with one thought:  if we read about country that we did not like in which 93% of legislative seats in their upcoming elections were a foregone conclusion our first thought would not be “My, how democratic they are.”   It would, in fact, be just the opposite.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2014, Politics 101, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Pinky says:

    it is profoundly problematic that Congress can have an approval rating of 12.9% (RCP average) and have that many noncompetitive House races

    I don’t see the sequitur here. My disapproval of someone else’s representative doesn’t mean that the system is broken. My disapproval of my representative doesn’t even mean that there’s a problem, unless a majority of the people in my district share the same judgment.

    It’s worth noting that the Framers didn’t envision the central government having such a reach – with greater federalism, more people would be able to vote for the officeholders who most affect their lives.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Here in Oregon it’s largely the result of demographics. About 90% of the population lives west of the cascades which means that 2/3 of the state has 10% of the population. West of the cascades is Democratic while the Congressional District east of the cascades is Libertarian leaning Republican.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Well, here in California, a prominent venture capitalist financed a petition drive to put on the ballot, an initiative that would have split California into 6 states – that was his way of creating 3 Republican states out of one dominant Democratic state. It garnered a few hundred thousand signatures but did not make the ballot. I don’t know if the initiative would have resulted in more competitive races, but would have resulted in turnover of some seats.

    I think the problem is structural – not only in drawing the maps, but in where we Americans choose to live. We increasingly live around like-minded people, people who share our political and cultural values. Of course in many cases you can draw the map to exclude opposition voters from obtaining power, but I think it’s just as likely in some regions that you will not see a competitive race unless the incumbent is plagued by scandal, even then ….

  4. @Pinky: So, your contention must assume that 93% of all members of the House are, in fact, adequately representing their districts, and hence the lack of competitiveness.

    Beyond that, the House is supposed to represent the population of the country, and hence the national interest. If you want to go Founding Fathers you have to acknowledge this. The Senate is the chamber that is linked to federalism, not the House. There is a profound disconnect in the numbers cited.

  5. Further, if, in fact, 93% of districts are overwhelming happy with their representatives that should translate into a higher overall approval rating for Congress. The disjuncture here is pretty amazing.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:

    the Framers didn’t envision the central government having such a reach

    I know…for instance there is absolutely no mention of an Air Force. I mean, WTF? Talk about powers in the Government not granted by the original document.
    I mean…you do want to do away with the Air Force? Right?

  7. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I wouldn’t make the contention of adequate representation. I just don’t think that discontentment with Congress necessarily proves the inadequacy of representation.

    As for your second point, I’m saying something different. 98% of senators and nearly 100% of congressmen are people I didn’t vote for, people who can’t have an even passing familiarity with my concerns. At the state and especially local level, there’s a connectedness.

  8. stonetools says:

    @Pinky:

    It’s worth noting that the Framers didn’t envision the central government having such a reach – with greater federalism, more people would be able to vote for the officeholders who most affect their lives.

    What the Founders (PBUT) did not foresee is an ever expanding list that if were a line of people, would run for blocks.
    Professor, I wonder if something like cumulative voting could be a solution. I remember Loni Guiner’s government career was guillotined for even suggesting a such a thing. What think you?

    Fact Sheet on Alternative Voting Systems.

  9. Pinky says:

    @C. Clavin: They were aware of the need for defense, and set up a system with a national defense. They were aware of other needs, and set up a system to address them more locally.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    @Pinky: Gallup polls this issue now and then: Americans Down on Congress, OK With Own Representative

    Last year, 46% approved of their own representative, 41% disapproved, and 13% had no opinion. If, however, the question is asked only of people who can name their representative, the approval rate increases to 62%.

  11. @Pinky:

    98% of senators and nearly 100% of congressmen are people I didn’t vote for, people who can’t have an even passing familiarity with my concerns. At the state and especially local level, there’s a connectedness.

    Except, of course, this is not the case. While it is true that you didn’t vote for 98% of the rest of the Senate and that those Senators don’t have knowledge of your state’s concerns. However, the notion, therefore, that you would automatically disapprove of the rest of the Senate does not follow logically, since regardless of your partisan preferences, roughly half of the Senate is voting alongside the Senators from your state (who, by the way, mostly vote on matters that are not just about your state).

  12. Not to mention the notion that the US government can be reduced to local concerns is highly problematic. We are a continental sized country of over 300 million people. By contrast the 13 original states had a population of roughly 3.5 million.

    The notion that whatever the Founding Fathers decided was a good idea in an eternally good idea is a faith-based approach to these questions. (And really, who actually thinks that if one put Hamilton, Madison, et al. in a room today, with knowledge of the contemporary world that they produce the exact same system?)

  13. C. Clavin says:

    Madison knew that large groups can’t govern effectively. The greater the number of representatives, the greater the chance that passion will rule over logic; the larger the body of representatives, the less insight and capacity each individual will possess.
    I’m OK with my Representatives…which is to say I don’t think they are doing any harm. They aren’t denying climate change, they aren’t fighting for more tax cuts, they aren’t trying to slash the social safety net, they aren’t trying to limit a woman’s rights, they aren’t trying to return health care to the pre-Obama status-quo. The House as a whole, however is doing all of those things. Passion over logic, indeed.

  14. @stonetools: My preference would be MMP, as they have in Germany. (And to see how it affects outcomes one can look to New Zealand where a system like our current one was replaced with MMP in 1993). A simple video explaining it can be found here.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:
    So you only want to invoke the framers when it’s something you don’t like.
    Got it.

  16. @C. Clavin:

    Madison knew that large groups can’t govern effectively. The greater the number of representatives, the greater the chance that passion will rule over logic; the larger the body of representatives, the less insight and capacity each individual will possess.

    Actually, you have some of that backwards. Madison argued that in smaller communities it was more likely that a specific faction could dominate, but as the scope of that society was expanded it was more likely that shifting factional alliances would block tyranny of control by one faction.

    Of course, it is also worth noting that Madison (at least early Madison) did not understand/predict the way in which parties would function both electorally and legislatively.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Yes…your are correct…he did.
    But this idea comes from Federalist 58 which deals specifically with the ability of the House to grow with the population.

  18. superdestroyer says:

    Wouldn’t an easier first six is to get seniority undercontrol in the House and Senate. You may not like your representative but voting a long term incumbent out of office means moving down to the bottom of the seniority list and thus, less bacon brought home to the district.

    Maybe a better deal is that no district can receive more in federal spending than it pays in. That may mean that gerrymandering a poor district to elect a particular representative still hurts the district since that incumbent cannot pork up a budget.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    I don’t really care about likes or dislikes…but…this proves their complete and utter worthlessness.
    What is essentially a footnote…written out in comment form…gets a downvote?

  20. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Again, I didn’t say it was automatic. But assuming the opposite case automatically is just as faulty.

  21. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve been puzzled that far more people vote for Dem Representatives, but we end up with more Republicans. Yet many credible sources say gerrymandering isn’t the cause. The best explanation I’ve seen (I forgot the source) is that Ds are more concentrated in cities than Rs are in suburban/rural areas. Equivalent to saying a smallish number of Rs in cities aren’t represented while a larger number of Ds in rural/suburban areas aren’t represented.

    I’ve not been ambitious enough to spreadsheet house seats and vote percentages, but this sounds right. It also, though, sounds hard to distinguish from gerrymandering.

  22. @gVOR08: This is part of my concern–that they system produces spurious majorities. And yes, the fact that our system represents geography rather than being designed to reflect actual citizen interests is part of the problem. (The Shugart post I quoted speaks to this, and links to some additional info on the topic).

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: On the MSNBC thread I got three downvotes for recommending a book. I’d be really curious how many of the three had read the book, or even heard of it.

  24. Now, as I have observed before, it is profoundly problematic that Congress can have an approval rating of 12.9% (RCP average) and have that many noncompetitive House races.

    And I keep pointing out, the popularity of congress as a whole is irrelevant because we don’t vote for congress as a whole.

  25. Ben says:

    My district is listed as “>99% chance of democratic win”, and yet the incumbent only won with 52% of the vote last election. Curious.

  26. @Pinky: But to refute what I am stating requires a reasoned rebuttal. There is zero reason to assume that dissatisfaction with the Congress is simply a function of the fact that I like my rep, but don’t like the rest if anything because all 435 Reps are not all radically different than one another nor is every vote anywhere near a vote of 1 district’s unique interests versus the other 434’s.

  27. @C. Clavin: People downvote some weird things at times.

    (Although occasionally it may be a stray click. I myself have accidentally click a thumb without meaning to and more than once have I accidentally clicked the wrong one).

  28. @Stormy Dragon:

    And I keep pointing out, the popularity of congress as a whole is irrelevant because we don’t vote for congress as a whole.

    So it does not matter in a “representative” democracy if the country, as a whole, is unhappy with the product of its government?

  29. @Ben: Not really. One is a breakdown of a recent vote, the other is a probability of a certain outcome. If a plurality of the vote in your district is consistently predictable, then setting a probability for a certain outcome is pretty easy to do.

  30. Dave Schuler says:

    Until 1980 Illinois had what I believe to be a system unique in the United States. There were 59 legislative districts and each district had three representatives. Each voter had three votes and could cast his or her votes in one of the races, two of them, or in all three.

    The system increased the likelihood that racial, ethnic, or political minorities would at least receive some representation.

  31. Dave D says:

    @superdestroyer: I have a very hard time believing that the welfare queens of the deep south would agree to anything that meant they would actually pay more federal taxes than what they took in. They have a pretty sweet gig leeching from states like California and New York.

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Also…you can vote once from your computer and once from your phone…and again from an iPad I suppose.
    Kinda silly really.

  33. Will Truman says:

    The biggest concern I have is the size of the constituencies. I think they are already too large and this would necessitate either increasing the House by a lot (which I favor, but is a fight in itself) or constituencies in the millions.

    The next biggest concern I have is the proliferation of parties necessitating coalition governments, though that depends on the specifics and would not likely be an issue in a presidential system.

    I’d totally be down for it at the state level. Especially a state like Idaho or New Hampshire which already have huge legislatures with respect to their population.

  34. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave D:

    The progressives who complain about the lack of taxes paid by the south should be able to team up with the small government conservatives to make it happen. When a representative cannot bring home any more bacon than what is paid in by the district, I would assume that there would be a huge culture shift in government. It would allow the budget to balance.

  35. Will Truman says:

    @Will Truman: In the second paragraph that should read “transitory coalitions”. I have no objection to reliable coalitions (National-Liberal) and in fact might find that preferable.

  36. gVOR08 says:

    @Ben: Nate Silver was 90% sure Obama would win in 2012, and he did, 51/47. And Silver’s since said he was fudging low, it was better odds than that for Obama.

    That Romney got 47% still cracks me up.

  37. @Will Truman: As I am sure I have noted to you before: I agree that the House is too small. And while expanding it would be difficult, it is probably more doable than electoral reform. A larger House would help on the representativeness front/

  38. Will Truman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think anything that requires theHouse to support watering down the power of its members is really hard. I can see a small increase as possible, but a large one being exponentially harder.

    On the other hand, it might fly with legislators in states at risk of losing house seats!

  39. @Will Truman: Indeed. However, it is the case that reforms have happened elsewhere, so it is not impossible.

    The first step in a long journey requires at least public discourse on the subject, and hence why I write stuff like this (even if the journey does not end in reform, the conversation is a worthwhile goal in and of itself).

  40. Will Truman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Well, I think the takeaway here – at least for increasing the size of the House – is to propose it right before redistricting. Then, in addition to those that would support it for ideological or idealistic reasons, you could get the support of those who are looking at their state’s redistricting board with suspicion and/or horror.

  41. Dave D says:

    @superdestroyer: That would require paying more or some taxes in the south which is politically un-doable or cutting funding to state run programs. This will be difficult since they already have consistently some of the worst rankings in education, healthcare, gdp per capita, median household incomes and wealth. So unless they dismantle the safety net provided by the government there is little foreseeable way to have states like Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama or Louisiana ever pay more than they take in. Especially with the recent rise they are also the states with some of the highest rates of obesity, disability claims and food stamp usage per capita. It is almost like giving corporations huge tax breaks failed to increase the standard of living in these places.

  42. Will Truman says:

    Balancing interstate transfers would require some combination of (a) a flatter tax structure (the south pays less in taxes in large part because of progressive taxation) or (b) pushing more costs away from the federal government and towards the states.

    Whether conservatives would let this happen is beside the point. Liberals wouldn’t let it happen.

    In my view, almost the totality of the resentment towards the south here is the desire for people they don’t like to sit down, shut up, and learn their place.

  43. Franklin says:

    Would more competitive districts result in even more expensive campaigns? Congressmen already spend most of their time fundraising, but it could be even worse!

  44. C. Clavin says:

    @Dave D:

    It is almost like giving corporations huge tax breaks failed to increase the standard of living in these places.

    Yeah…almost just like that!!!
    Gallup-Healthways list of 10 most miserable states…all Red. Go figure…
    10. Louisiana
    9. Oklahoma
    8. Missouri
    7. Tennessee
    6. Arkansas
    5. Ohio
    4. Alabama
    3. Mississippi

    > Well-being index score: 63.7
    > Life expectancy: 75.0 years (the lowest)
    > Percent obese: 35.4% (the highest)
    > Median household income: $37,095 (the lowest)
    > Percent with high school diploma: 82.3% (3rd lowest)
    2. Kentucky
    > Well-being index score: 63.0
    > Life expectancy: 76.0 years (tied-6th lowest)
    > Percent obese: 30.6% (9th highest)
    > Median household income: $41,724 (5th lowest)
    > Percent with high school diploma: 83.8% (5th lowest)
    1. West Virginia
    > Well-being index score: 61.4
    > Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd lowest)
    > Percent obese: 34.4% (2nd highest)
    > Median household income: $40,196 (3rd lowest)
    > Percent with high school diploma: 84.5% (8th lowest)

  45. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave D:

    The first thing on you data is to unfold the data and see how bad the states are doing versus their demographic make up. Any state that has a large number of blacks is always going to look worse that a state with few blacks.

    However, if a Congressman in Alabama wants a bigger safety net, then they just have to give up pork barrel spending at Redstone Arsenal or for farm subsidies. There is money to be cut, it is just easier to borrow and kick the can down the road.

  46. Dave D says:

    @Will Truman: No my resentment is towards the people who talk out of both sides of their mouth. These are the get your government hands off my medicare people. The same resentment I have for loading disaster relief bills with pork. The same resentment I have for the congressmen who vote down a disaster relief bill on the basis of the deficit when it is someone else’s district then votes for one in their district. It is the same resentment that keeps Abrams tanks being made and military bases open we don’t need and the pentagon doesn’t want because losing employment in your district looks bad. This country takes in good money and appropriates oh so poorly. Before when your representative more directly represented their district this kind of stuff could be excused, because what is good for one district isn’t always good for yours. Now that every election is national and every bill is one dumb rider away from being tabled this becomes insufferable. Maybe this is why congress can have so many noncompetitive races and such a low approval rating. Because when it comes to needless spending every congressmen is going to waste as much money in their district as they can regardless of party, whether or not it benefits the country. I just ask they have the decency to at least say so, and not rant about takers, or pork or anything else.

  47. Dave D says:

    @Dave D: And it just dawned on me that I asked any member of congress to have decency so this is a failing on my part.

  48. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Dave D:

    You are taking him too seriously. This is superdestroyer we are talking about. He would prefer that system because majority-minority districts, as a whole, get more money back (compared to taxes paid) than majority white districts.

  49. Neil Hudelson says:

    Ah, and I see he’s now gone down that road.

  50. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Just a point: Brazil has proportional representation, and most elected representatives from the Lower House of the Parliament deals with local concerns. Many people, specially in the most rural areas, votes for local politicians.

    Besides that, the role of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament(here the US Senate) is to counterbalance the Lower House. I think that both chambers are linked to Federalism.

  51. @Andre Kenji: Point taken. However, I wasn’t arguing so much that members of lower houses never vote local issues, of course they do (they do in nonfederal systems as well). I took Pinky’s point to mean that the House was designed specifically to fulfill federalist functions, which it isn’t.

    Indeed, your point is worth noting for a different reason: despite some anti-PR arguments, representatives elected in PR setting can still represent local interests.

  52. Will Truman says:

    @Dave D: To me, speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth is also supporting a set of policies and then being angry that they benefit the wrong people while continuing to support said policies.

    I personally support policies that would smooth the disparities. the same liberals that express resentment are the ones supporting policies that would enlarge the disparities and actually get mad when people (especially the /wrong/ people) take an opposing position.

  53. Will Truman says:

    @Dave D: On this, we agree.

  54. C. Clavin says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Any state that has a large number of blacks is always going to look worse that a state with few blacks.

    At least you’re not racist.
    Have you ever met someone who is not white?

  55. Ben Wolf says:

    Dr. Taylor,

    Off-topic, but would it be convenient to mail you a copy of your book with return postage to obtain your signature?

  56. @Ben Wolf: My apologies for not getting back to you on this (I had intended to do so). Yes, you can send it to my office:

    Department of Political Science
    Troy University
    MSCX 331
    Troy, AL 36082

  57. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Beyond that, the House is supposed to represent the population of the country, and hence the national interest.

    Do you have a reference on this?

    I was always under the impression that it was more about making sure the little-states didn’t get to beat up on the bigger ones than representing the nation as a whole (And the Senate was vice versa : to ensure that the big states couldn’t beat up on the little ones).

    Thus they would both be “federalist” …

  58. @John D’Geek: The Senate (as a result of the “Great Compromise”) allocated seats on the basis of 2 per state to maintain the significance of the smaller states (they were giving up co-equality of votes in the legislature under the Articles).

    The House, by definition, is allocated based on population. The only federal aspect of the House is the fact that each state is guaranteed one seat in the chamber.

    Madison in Fed 39:

    The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is NATIONAL, not FEDERAL. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is FEDERAL, not NATIONAL.

  59. By way of comparative example: the Colombian Chamber of Representatives (the lower or first chamber) allocates seats to the Departments based on population. Colombia, however, is a unitary state (i.e., not federal). In short: the US House of Representatives is not in any way uniquely federalist in its design (expect as I noted before, and even that is not truly uniquely federal).

  60. BTW: if we had stuck with Madison’s original plan (the Virginia Plan) both chambers would have been allocated based on population.

  61. PD Shaw says:

    @Dave Schuler: Illinois had cumulative voting and multi-member districts from 1870 to 1980. From at least 1952-1970, about half of elections were uncontested. LINK. (No data on how many were meaningfully contested) This was either because of geographic sorting or political party collusion.

    There was a decline in voter choice after cumulative voting was dropped, but what is interesting is that the same is true with the Illinois Senate, which has always been in single-member districts. That suggests the loss of voter choice is probably mostly due to better partisan districting.

  62. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: In some sense, PR can bring the worse from FPP because many voters vote for local politicians regardless of their merits, just because they want local representation on Congress. Voting against a politician from your region, if he is a complete crook, means voting against your own interests.

    There are many regions without representation too.

  63. @Andre Kenji:

    Voting against a politician from your region, if he is a complete crook, means voting against your own interests.

    But, of course, depending on the situation there may be more than one local candidate to choose from, or even more than one with a chance to win.

    There are many regions without representation too.

    This is a legitimate concern (and is one of the reasons I like MMP–you get local representation in the context of proportional representation).

  64. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: No. The US Senate has a equal number of seats for each state because that bring advantages for the small states, that threatened to refuse to sign the Constitution.

  65. @Andre Kenji: Yes. That is what I said above:

    The Senate (as a result of the “Great Compromise”) allocated seats on the basis of 2 per state to maintain the significance of the smaller states (they were giving up co-equality of votes in the legislature under the Articles).

  66. (either you misread what I wrote or I am totally misunderstanding your comment)

  67. Will Truman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: This is true, but there is a reason we didn’t.

  68. @Will Truman: Sure. Political compromise.

    Still, it is an interesting road not taken (that and it shows that there wasn’t some Singular Perfect Founders Plan from the beginning).

  69. Will Truman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Honestly, I find the Virginia Plan pretty uninspired. With the distribution the same and neither house selected by the state government… it’s not clear to me that there is enough distinction to warrant two houses. I feel this way about most state senates. Though one place role I could definitely see in state bicameralism is to allow one house that’s district-based, and another that’s proportionally represented.

    Political compromise, yes. The settlement of disparate interests between large states and small states. A conflict that still exists, and for which the two houses are still a settlement for. I view it as different from the Electoral College, which as you’ve outlined never worked as intended.

  70. @Will Truman: On balance, I agree with the basics of your comment, although I might go down a few rabbit holes if were having a face-to-face conversation. (Indeed, the more interesting road not taken on the Virginia Plan was the way the president was chosen). I will confess that I do not like the Senate being a perfect 2 per state given the evolution of the state populations. The ratio between the large and small has become rather large (too large, I think). (But I could live with it more on federalism grounds if we eliminated the filibuster altogether).

    I see the function the Senate performs (and it does make a lot more sense than state legislatures on in unitary states like Colombia).

    I do question, ultimately, the degree to which the states themselves have interests that are anything other than the aggregation of the people living in them.

  71. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: They only did that because the small states threatened to refuse to sign the Constitution. There is no institutional reason for doing that.

  72. @Andre Kenji: I guess I am unclear on what you think you are correcting me on here.

    The notion that a key feature of federalism includes special representation of the sub-units is a pretty standard part of the definition.

    Did it have to look like the Great Compromise? Clearly not–but I don’t think I claimed that that was the case (even accidentally).

    Granted: the Founders invented federalism as we understand it (even if it was a semi-accidental). Ditto presidentialism.

  73. superdestroyer says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    But progressives keep telling me that blue district pay much more in taxes that red districts. Progressives do not like to notice that majority-minority districts are next sinks for governments spending and that the majority-minority districts in the south are probably the worst at consuming more taxes than the pay. Of course, I doubt if Alabama elected a Democrat governor that the ratio would change at all but progressives do not like to notice that either.

  74. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I wish progressives would give up this trope. For white progressives living in Burlington, VT or Portland, OR to call middle class whites living in Alabama or Texas racist and that they have not experience with minorities is laughable.

  75. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: Well, I live in West Philly and think you are a racist. Does that help?

  76. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: A number of years back, a professor of mine had just returned from a trip to Nicaragua as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar–at about the time of the Contra wars and other excitement there. He told the story of a conversation with a taxi driver in Managua where the driver was questioning my professor on his belief in the potency of our democratic traditions in the US–asserting that the US was no more democratic than Nicaragua or most any other country, Latin American or otherwise. The taxi driver observed that while a country like Nicaragua may control the outcome of the race by “stuffing the ballot box,” in America we relied on “rigging the whole system” by controlling who can even run for office and expect to get elected.

    Certainly, who can even run and expect to get elected in controlled by diverse factors, most of which may not be subject to any sort of remediation. Still 93% not competitive strikes me as outside the bounaries of those unremediable factors in some way or another.

  77. Will Truman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: To me, the solution to the large/small state problem is mostly an issue of giving the larger states room to split up if they so choose. I don’t think they would so choose, which relieves me of some of the sympathy I have for their lack of senate representation. (FTR, I’ve lived in one of the largest states in the country, and one of the smallest.) I know we’re not going to agree on this, in large part because we disagree so strongly on that last sentence of yours, but I thought I would throw that out there.

    I also agree that unitary systems have their place. I’m working on what a constitution for the Western Eleven (New Mexico and points north and west) might look like, and it ends up looking like what I would draft for the USA if I were drafting a system from scratch (except for the California Problem). But in this context I also pondered a California or a CA-OR-WA republic, in which case a unitary system would definitely be a consideration.

  78. HelloWorld! says:

    What is meant by “single seat district”? Aren’t all districts single seat?

  79. @HelloWorld!: In many systems globally (indeed, most) districts are multi-seat.

  80. @Will Truman:

    in large part because we disagree so strongly on that last sentence of yours, but I thought I would throw that out there.

    It’s a fair point of contention, but I still cannot see how California has interests if one removes the people from California. Are their local issues that affect California that do not affect Alabama? Absolutely, but the only way this manifests in the way in which it affects said people residing in those locations.

  81. C. Clavin says:

    @superdestroyer:
    Dude…you’re a racist. You know it. Anyone who has ever read your comments knows it. Own it.

  82. Andre Kenji says:

    Unless you are willing to divide large metropolitan areas in different states simply creating more states is not a solution to the disparity of power between large and small states…

  83. Andre Kenji says:

    There are Senators at Large in Mexico, there are the Senators for Life in Italy, there is the House of Lords of Britain. The role of the Senate is to represent the people in a counterweight to the Lower House, not to represent pieces of land.

  84. Will Truman says:

    @Andre Kenji: It won’t solve it, but it will alleviate it. If you’re insistent on 1:1 representation, there is indeed no solution short of abolishing the Senate (or not instituting one in the first place). But Steven was mentioning about the scope of the disparity, which can be alleviated somewhat, even if the disparity itself will still exist.

    You could also allocate in degressive proportionality (like Germany)… except that Constitutionally, it’s possible that we actually can’t. It’s one of the more immutable parts of the document.

  85. Will Truman says:

    @Andre Kenji: @Steven L. Taylor: It’s less representing the pieces of land specifically, but to represent the people as a collective political entity (inhabiting a particular land), rather than individual. To me, it’s along the same lines that we have an Ambassador to the United Nations, rather than electing a Senator to the United Nations. The Ambassador does represent the people, but through the government. Which is different than representing the people directly (and not in a “failure of democracy” sort of way).

    Truthfully, I am relatively indifferent on the 17th Amendment because the difference between a senator elected by the people and elected by the legislature doesn’t strike me as too different, and with gerrymandering I actually lean a bit towards direct election. To contrast that with Germany, where the senator is appointed by and recalled by the state government, and that is a huge difference (and not in a “failure of democracy” sort of way).

  86. Just Me says:

    #1 congress is changing nothing because members first and foremost are about preserving their jobs.

    #2 just because a person is dissatisfied with their representative that doesn’t translate into liking the other guy-for many dissatisfied people it’s about holding your nose and voting for the guy who you may night like but you still like better than the other guy.

    #3 I think congress is too small for the current population. How much larger it should be I can’t say but I think people might get better representation if the representative represented fewer people. I live in a small state with a huge state house (in numbers not the building).

    I personally know my state representative. My kids to to school with their kids, I see them at the local stores, if I have an issue I can tell them.

    I don’t think the US House could get to this level of personal knowledge but I think it could be better.

    #4 I like the idea of some kind of formula for proportional representation in proportion to how people vote but I kind of like the idea of representatives being proportionate to the voters.

    The state of Massachusetts has republicans living and voting in the state but they don’t have a single representative in congress who is a republican.

  87. @Andre Kenji:

    There are Senators at Large in Mexico, there are the Senators for Life in Italy, there is the House of Lords of Britain. The role of the Senate is to represent the people in a counterweight to the Lower House, not to represent pieces of land.

    Well, yes. But, it depends on the specific chamber and the specific institutional mix. The Senate in Mexico plays a very different role than does the House of Lords than does the Italian Senate, etc.

  88. @Will Truman: I wouldn’t mind the German model if we also adopted the notion that some legislation is national (and therefore only voted on by the lower house) and some legislation directly affects state government goes to the upper house too (in other words, Germany does not have the pure symmertical bicameralism that we have in the US).

    Really, my main beef with the Senate is that it is possible for a small minority of the population to drive national policy outcomes.

  89. superdestroyer says:

    What causes so many noncompetitive districts is the large number of American voters who automatically vote for one party or the other. The idea that you can mix up the automatic voting groups with the few swing voters and hide the effects of the automatic voters is laughable.

    The only way to make more districts competitive is too make the voters feel the impacts of their votes. However, the current U.S. system is set up to make sure that does not happen.

  90. @superdestroyer: The electoral system, coupled with primaries leads to only having 2 viable choices. If you want to blow up the two party duopoly, change the rules of the electoral system.

  91. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If you really want to do away with some of the power of incumbents, then do away with senior in the House and Senate. Look at how many of the Democrats who were committee chairman in the U.S. senate lost their chairmanships in 1995 but where back in 2007. I give you Robert Byrd is an example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_Committee_on_Appropriations#Chairmen.2C_1867.E2.80.93present

    If you want to eliminate the power of incumbents then you have to find a way so that Robert Byrd could only affect West Virginia but could not affect any other state. As long as seniority leads to pork barrel system in the state or district back home, then the incumbents are going to be returned to power. No amount of changing the voting rules is going to take that power away.

  92. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Further, if, in fact, 93% of districts are overwhelming happy with their representatives that should translate into a higher overall approval rating for Congress. The disjuncture here is pretty amazing.

    No, that shouldn’t necessarily translate into a higher approval rating for Congress. Looking at the historic Gallup polling since the 1970’s, it is completely normal.

    Bottom line, I’m not convinced the data support a judgment that problems with the current system are structural since the problems can also be attributed to other factors.

  93. @Andy: Is the argument more complicated than comparing the numbers in question? Yes, of course. And, as I noted above, the contributing factors to the approval ratings are complex.

    Still, even the graph you have provided shows that the current level of dissatisfaction are historically low, so I don’t see how the graph helps your argument.

  94. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I haven’t made an argument, so the graph does hurt or help it – I’ve simply pointed out that the evidence doesn’t support the assertion you made in your comment I quoted.

    Secondly, saying “it’s more complicated” is obvious. However, unless I’ve misread what you’ve written, both here and in other posts in this same vein, you are asserting the political problems in this country have a structural component. In this specific post you write about the low approval and indicate that it’s due to structural issues:

    While this is part of the situation more fundamentally it has to be understood that the problem is our electoral system.

    That’s a strong assertion with no evidence. Anyway, my argument is this: The cart should be put before the horse. Before setting forth to fundamentally change the system we use to determine a representative government, which is a dangerous proposition that must be well-justified, we need to be relatively certain that structural change will actually fix the problems we want to fix, and that the necessary changes can be implemented.

    And, full disclosure, I like many aspects of a parliamentary system. I am a politically engaged person who cannot support either the GoP or Democrats, so the idea of more parties to choose from is certainly appealing.

  95. @Andy: Yes, I do think that part of the problem is structural. I would note that the presence of a large percentage of non-competitive seats is not a new phenomenon.

  96. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thanks. I don’t think I made it to 39 yet.