The Most Troubling Number from Last Night: 51
I heard James Thurber (University Distinguished Professor of Government and Founder (1979) and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University) on the Diane Rehm show this morning and he noted that only 51 (fifty-freaking-one!) of the 435 House races were competitive yesterday. That’s only 11.7% of the races. This is an astounding lack of competition for what is supposed to be the most representative institution in our government. (This is not surprising to anyone who pays any attention to such things, although I suspect most people assume that there is a lot more competition than there is*).
Granted, some of this is simply because given regions are fairly homogenous ideologically speaking. However, a major problem is that a large number of districts are gerrymandered to be safe as safe can be. Of course, fundamentally this is a result of single seat district electoral system and is exacerbated by the fact that the House is too small relative to the population. Primaries play a major role as well, as they severely undercut the incentives for serious third party development. (There is a lot in this paragraph that would require many pages to fully explain, so I will just leave them hanging for the moment).
It is difficult to state, I would argue, that the House is especially representative if in the context of extremely low approval only 11.7% of its seats are actually up for grabs.
Of course, if getting a serious conversation started about electoral college reform is near impossible, discussion of electoral reform vis-a-vis the Congress is beyond impossible.
As a side note, this should give pause to all those who think that going to a district-based system (a la Maine and Nebraska) would improve the electoral college. God help those who live in a swing district in that alternative reality!
*This is another thing, by the way, that the Framers got profoundly wrong. Part of the rationale for having the Senate (and for much of its design) was predicated on the notion that the House, being the people’s house, and prone to the passions of the masses, might change membership frequently and dramatically. Oops.