Eric Alterman, thinkologist for The Nation and prolific Reason pen pal, has been hinting darkly for a while now that the big Democratic midterm victory is going to end with Santa shaking his head sadly and saying "We'll just have to cancel Christmas Winter Holiday! And the children have been so good this year!" While Alterman's never quite willing to consider that the left is just selling a product few Americans want to buy, he's got a strong point about how districting has greased the ladder for the Democrats, linking to this interesting study:
Why are things so tough? Looking at the 2004 election, the Democrats won their victories with an average of 69% of the vote, while the Republicans averaged 65% in their contests, thus "wasting" fewer votes. The Republicans won 47 races with less than 60% of the vote; the Democrats only 28. Many Democrats are in districts where they win overwhelmingly, while many Republicans are winning the close races—with the benefit of incumbency and, in some cases, favorable redistricting.
I find gerrymandering issues heap-big confusing—isn't there a pretty low ceiling to how much you can redistrict your way to victory at the national level? (That is, I can see how it works to gerrymander a district at the local level, but when you're talking about all 535 seats in Congress, shouldn't it tend to even out?) But as Delaware Dave Weigel reminded me the other day, since the days of the Contract With America, the GOP has had plenty of time in control of a variety of state houses to set things up. It's going to take some doing for Powerhouse Pelosi to orchestrate a national turnover, and a general sense that "Americans are unhappy with the direction of Congress" is not enough to do it.
Studying how the Republicans have stacked the deck against Democrats (sort of like how the Democrats did the exact same thing to Republicans until the 1990s) takes some of the sheen off President Bush's performance as head of the Republicans, but not much. As I never tire of pouring icy water on political hopes, I'll point out again that Bush is still way ahead of the average presidential-coattails performance in off-year and midterm races. Even if the GOP lost both houses in November, Bush would still be ahead of the average. He's already an electoral success for his party. How such a small man had such a big effect is something future historians, with their smellevision and massive frontal and parietal lobes, will have to puzzle out.