Dems' Electoral Expectations Dim?

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The Wash Times reports that despite sucko ratings for Bush and the Republicans, things ain't looking so hot for the Democrats come November:

"The 2006 midterm elections are a political analyst's nightmare. The national climate seems to portend big changes, yet race-by-race analyses reveal formidable odds against a Democratic takeover of either the House or the Senate," veteran elections tracker Charlie Cook says in his latest National Journal election preview.

Small correction: The 2006 midterm elections are a citizen's nightmare. But pray continue:

Several structural problems confront the Democrats in the House elections. Just three- to four-dozen House races out of 435 at stake are truly competitive. And among the 18 Republican seats that are open, only half are in districts where "Democrats have a remote chance of winning," Mr. Cook says. Making matters worse, the Democrats were able to recruit only second- or third-tier challengers in many key districts where the Republicans looked vulnerable.

Stuart Rothenberg, another "tracker," is putting the Dem pickup at between seven to 10 seats in the House, short of the 15 they need to take control of the bus just as it goes over the cliff. Regardless of political affiliation, here's the tear-inducing stat of the day from the story: "In the past decade or more the re-election rate for House members has been running from 97 percent to 99.5 percent."

More here.

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  1. We have to get the redistricting down to a better system. This gerrymandering has gone far too far.

    JMJ

  2. Wow, I actually agree with Jersey. And he made a reasonable post in a reasonable tone. 97-99.5% is a downright Soviet reelection rate.

  3. I also agree with Jersey. When Gerrymandering results in Soviet-level re-election rates, something has gone too far.

    Nonpartisan redistricting would be a good start. Iowa has somehow found a way to do it, and frequently features competitive races (note the plural) despite having only a handful of Congressional districts.

    Proportional representation would be an even better idea. Now, I know what some of the objections will be, so I’ll just paste some stuff I wrote about it a while ago:

    1) I’m only talking about US House elections, not the US Senate.

    2) I’m not talking about statewide or nationwide elections for the House. Small to mid-sized states could serve as districts electing up to 10 or so legislators. Larger states could be divided into districts, with each district electing 5 to 10 legislators.

    3) I’m not suggesting the party list elections that European countries often use. There are plenty of ways to keep the focus on individual candidates rather than parties. See the Center for Voting and Democracy for more info.

    4) I’m not suggesting a parliamentary system that goes unstable and requires a new election every time a legislative coalition falls apart. The executive would still be elected separately, but one house of the legislature would simply be elected by PR.

    5) Yes, I realize that this is a republic, not a democracy. My goal is to get the best representation for the people, rather than a system where the majority in a district gets all the representation while the minority gets no representation.

    6) For those who lament large district sizes distancing people from their legislators, when’s the last time the legislator from your gerrymandered district paid any attention to you?

  4. Nowdays with GIS software you should be able to preserve geographically-based representation and remove gerrymandering. Just create an open algorithm coupled with some open-source software to implement it. Sadly, the only person wacky enough to back an idea like that would have been Newt Gingrich, and even then he probably would look at the current distribution, do the math, and announce it the pinnacle of representative democracy.

  5. I agree about the gerrymandering as well. The problem is, I can’t think of a non political way to fix it. There is no ‘correct’ shape for a district.

    Maybe if we have a federal law that says something like “The area of a state shall be divided evenly into regular rhombuses (rhombi?)for the purposes of congressional districting?”

  6. I’ll have to look into Iowa’s situation. I just don’t know that I really believe in non partisan outcomes when the stakes are high.

  7. I welcome our new rotten borough overlords.

  8. We have to get the redistricting down to a better system. This gerrymandering has gone far too far.

    This is the most, if not only, salient thing Jersey has ever said.

    I’d say one potential fix is that a district must be contiguous, at least as a minimum requirement. And I like Sandy’s idea of using an algorithm.

  9. Weird shaped districts can be perfectly reasonable, though. Like a long, narrow, winding district that follows a coastline.

    Or if a state went out of its way to create a “rural district” in a mainly-suburban state, which involved grabbing chunks here and there and connecting them with country roads, in order to bring together populations that were geographically dispersed, but which share common experiences and interests.

    I don’t consider it self-evident that geographical proximity is the only rightful means of drawing a district. And yet I recognize that harmful gerrymandering is happening.

  10. This is the most, if not only, salient thing Jersey has ever said.

    Except he only means “republican gerrymandering” when he says “gerrymandering”.

  11. “I don’t consider it self-evident that geographical proximity is the only rightful means of drawing a district. And yet I recognize that harmful gerrymandering is happening.”

    I don’t think it is self evident, I just think that geometry has the advantage of being apolitical, for the most part.

  12. I think a reasonable guide for drawing districts would be that a district must be contiguous, and the boundary of the district must either be a natural feature (river, lake, ocean, mountain range), a county line, or a city limit. I think it would be much tougher to gerrymander in that case, but you could still draw a flexible district.

    Here in Florida there was a petition drive a year ago to eliminate gerrymandering in Florida’s congressional districts, but I’m afraid I don’t remember the particular details of the plan.

  13. I think a reasonable guide for drawing districts would be that a district must be contiguous, and the boundary of the district must either be a natural feature (river, lake, ocean, mountain range), a county line, or a city limit. I think it would be much tougher to gerrymander in that case, but you could still draw a flexible district.

    County and/or Parrish boundaries are the most logical place to start. For populous counties, using geographical boundaries within each county line would be most logical.

  14. I wonder if the answer isn’t to just reduce representation to the county level? It could still be population based, but the representatives would be at-large representatives for the more populous counties, rather than representing strangely crafted districts. I suppose this could be abused, too, with county lines being redrawn in “creative” ways, but it would seem to be an improvement over what we have today. I can think of a few potential problems (like the fact that some states have a bunch of small counties while others have fewer, larger ones), but I’m sure they could be worked out.

  15. I wonder if the answer isn’t to just reduce representation to the county level? It could still be population based, but the representatives would be at-large representatives for the more populous counties, rather than representing strangely crafted districts. I suppose this could be abused, too, with county lines being redrawn in “creative” ways, but it would seem to be an improvement over what we have today. I can think of a few potential problems (like the fact that some states have a bunch of small counties while others have fewer, larger ones), but I’m sure they could be worked out.

    Yay for great minds thinking alike.

  16. Duckman,
    What about dividing a city (like, LA or NYC) into multiple districts? It would require a reasonable boundary that fit none of those criteria.

  17. I don’t think the actual mechanism used to draw districts will be that important as long as it is removed from the control of blantantly partisan bodies like state legislatures. States can experiment to find the best way of drawing districts, but there is no excuse for continuing to use the worst possible way of doing it.

  18. “The 2006 midterm elections are a political analyst’s nightmare. The national climate seems to portend big changes, yet race-by-race analyses reveal formidable odds against a Democratic takeover of either the House or the Senate,”

    That is what happens when both parties completely ignore the voters. If the Democrats would forget about playing to the KOS brigade and trying to settle three year old arguments and do something real about illegal immigration they would pound the Republicans. The vast majority of voters want something done about illegal immigration and both parties are too cowed by the politically correct media and too corrupted by the influence of big business to do anything about it.

  19. What about dividing a city (like, LA or NYC) into multiple districts? It would require a reasonable boundary that fit none of those criteria.

    NYC already has community boards that are not gerrymandered – i’m sure most big cities have something similar.

  20. Yay for great minds thinking alike.

    Thomas Paine’s Goiter, you are a friggin’ genius 🙂

    I remember something about the Florida reform effort on redistricting. There was something about creating an “independent” commission to handle redistricting, in order to isolate the process from the overt partisanship of the legislature. I think using the TPG/PL County Model? along with something that at least somewhat distances the districting process from politics would be a vast improvement over what we have today.

  21. Nowdays with GIS software you should be able to preserve geographically-based representation and remove gerrymandering.

    Or to make gerrymandering even MORE sophisticated. If, say, you were the people with actual power to set district boundaries and had the concomitant incentives.

  22. I remember something about the Florida reform effort on redistricting. There was something about creating an “independent” commission to handle redistricting, in order to isolate the process from the overt partisanship of the legislature. I think using the TPG/PL County Model? along with something that at least somewhat distances the districting process from politics would be a vast improvement over what we have today.

    The “at large” representation for populous counties is interesting.

  23. The “at large” representation for populous counties is interesting.

    At large representation is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons.

    However, thoreau’s multi-member districts using Proportional representation can work very well.

    Having grown up in a place that used a modification of the Hare system of PR I more or less accepted it with religious zeal. Since then, however, I have heard compelling arguments in favor of single member elections.

  24. I’m all for the county-system. If that won’t work, hell just try a grid.

    I’m curious – why is the re-election rate 97% – 99.5% over the past decade? Shouldn’t this be known precisely?

  25. A simple rule would be that all but one district in each state must be part of a rectangle that does not include any part of another district (though it may extend outside the state boundaries). This would result in one irregularly-shaped district per state, which wouldn’t make much difference in small states, but in larger states it would make gerrymandering virtually impossible.

    But I’m of the belief that, like with Calcutta’s sewer system, what can be done to improve our redistricting system is “anything”.

  26. Actually, a better idea would be to have the districts drawn as part of a game show.

  27. “In the past decade or more the re-election rate for House members has been running from 97 percent to 99.5 percent.”

    The fact that as many as three percent of Our Masters are at risk of having to find real work obviously means we need more campaign finance “reform.”

  28. R C Dean, when you have philosopher kings in power, why on earth would you want to oust them? We’re really living in a new Enlightenment, with scientist-scholars serving at all levels of government.

    Really, these numbers are offensive. We’re obviously too collectively stupid to toss these losers out on their asses, so maybe national terms limits are yet another necessary piece of the puzzle. Danged Supreme Court–we could’ve tried this out ten years ago. Bastards.

  29. I like the aforementioned algorhythm idea. There has to be a more objective, scientific method applied to this. And mostly, the geographics and related logistics (those who all utilize the same watersheds, highways, lakes, etc) should be the boundary prerequisite, as they share commons. The Dems may have been bad with gerrymandering before, but the GOP has become blatantly ridiculous about it!

    JMJ

  30. It should be pointed out that the rate isn’t as high as it seems – sometimes if a member of Congress sees electoral defeat looming they’ll suddenly decide to “spend more time with family” (or in Tom DeLay’s case, spend more time with his lawyers), thus creating an open seat.

    It should also be pointed out as long as we’re talking about DeLay is that his decision to re-redistrict Texas may set a precedent – we may soon start seeing redistricting whenever control of any state’s government changes hands, because why not? Truly, he corrupted everything he touched.

    Isaac, why are at-large elections unsatisfactory? You say there are a number of reasons but don’t say what they are. Given the impossibility of drawing lines neutrally, not having lines at all would seem to be the only option.

  31. It should be pointed out that the rate isn’t as high as it seems – sometimes if a member of Congress sees electoral defeat looming they’ll suddenly decide to “spend more time with family” (or in Tom DeLay’s case, spend more time with his lawyers), thus creating an open seat.

    It should also be pointed out as long as we’re talking about DeLay is that his decision to re-redistrict Texas may set a precedent – we may soon start seeing redistricting whenever control of any state’s government changes hands, because why not? Truly, he corrupted everything he touched.

    Isaac, why are at-large elections unsatisfactory? You say there are a number of reasons but don’t say what they are. Given the impossibility of drawing lines neutrally, not having lines at all would seem to be the only option.

  32. Perhaps we should just admit that gerrymandering is as permanent a phenomenon as politics, and use it to our advantage.

    Write gerrymandering into the law, so that all districts are redrawn after every election by the party that lost. Bet that’ll get re-election percentages to back away from Stalinesque proportions.

  33. Redistricting, the geographical division of a given region into N contiguous and even compact regions of equal population, within some reasonable error bound, is a straightforward computational problem. Even so, given the implied destruction of political power, I’m not surprised that nobody’s adopted such an impartial, computationally generated solution.

  34. Whoever wins, we lose.

  35. NYC’s community boards aren’t gerrymandered because they’re not popularly elected.

  36. Dems’ Electoral Expectations Dim

    Matches their mental acuity. My hope is that the GOP retains control and that Bush gets impeached anyway.

  37. My hope is that the GOP retains control and that Bush gets impeached anyway.

    Now, that I would love to see.

    Impeachment proceedings reveal so much about both sides.

  38. I found that the Washington Times piece that quoted, highly selectively, some of my writings, did not at all reflect the views that we express in the 6,000-8,000 words a month I write in my eight columns a month and in the Cook Political Report. I would urge readers to read our actual content to get the full text. If the election were held today, we believe that Republicans would lose their House majority, but hold onto the Senate, but the election isn’t being held today and obviously, things could change.

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