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Looking left, to the House of Representatives | Hunter of Justice

Looking left, to the House of Representatives

by on December 19, 2008  •  In Congress

Nate Silver, the fabulous 538 numbers guy, has some fascinating observations on the impact of the election on the House of Representatives:

Even in districts where the Republicans did compete they were often not truly competitive. The Democrats had 126 districts that they won by 40 points or more (including races that they won uncontested). These districts represent approximately half of the Democratic seats in the House, and nearly 30 percent of the House in its entirety. By contrast, the Republicans had only had 30 districts that they won by 40 or more points, of which 22 are in the South.

Basically, the Republicans aren't competitive virtually anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard north of Washington, D.C., and virtually anywhere on the Pacific Coast north of Monterey. They aren't competitive in virtually any dense urban center, or in virtually any majority-minority district (such as the black belt in the South or Hispanic-majority districts in South Texas). Finally, there are a dozen or so districts where Republicans are virtually nonexistant because of the presence of a large College or University. Collectively, that adds up to a lot of districts — almost a third of the country.

Conversely, the Democrats have very few districts in which they can't play some angle or another. Nearly all of the Republican-dominated districts fit into a particular template: white, Southern, rural or exurban, lower-middle class (but not usually impoverished), low-mobility, with poorly-diversified economies reliant on traditional sectors like manufacturing or agriculture. There are only a couple dozen such districts throughout the country.

[As a result], the Democrats have a pretty strong buffer against Republican gains at the margins, which might be pretty useful to them since parties taking over the White House typically lose seats at the next midterm election. For example, suppose that Republicans gain 5 points across the board in 2010 (so that, for instance, a district which they lost by 3 points in 2008, they'd win by 2 points in 2010). If the Republicans managed to do this, the Democrats would lose just 15 seats, still holding 242 to the Republicans' 193. Suppose instead that the Republicans gained 10 points across the board. Surely that would give them back control of the chamber, right? Not really — it only nets them 7 additional seats, giving them 200 to the Democrats' 235. Finally, suppose that the Republicans gained 15 points across the board. Even then, the Democrats would retain possession of the House by a narrow 219-216 margin.

Put more succinctly, an outright majority of the House is now controlled by Democrats who won their elections by 15 points or more. Even if the political climate shifts back toward the Republicans, they may have trouble getting much bang for their buck. The Congerssional Progressive Caucus now has 71 members, considerably larger than the Democrats' 47 Blue Dogs..

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