By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – November 15, 2022
Is this a crisis of democracy? That’s what Democrats always say.
That’s a joke, and astute readers are probably already yelling into their coffee that the “House popular vote” is not a thing that, strictly speaking, exists. Rather, the U.S. has 435 House races in 435 separate districts. Twas ever thus. Yet for years progressives have pointed to similar figures in the other direction as proof that democracy is fundamentally broken.
“Has Gerrymandering Made it Impossible for Democrats to Win the House?” That headline ran in the New Yorker in 2014. They won it in 2018 and again in 2020. A New York Times writer nonetheless fretted in 2020: “Gerrymandering and geography means that Democrats need to win a substantial majority in the House popular vote to take the gavel.”
As Rep. Kevin McCarthy waits to see if Republicans win enough seats to make him the next Speaker of the House, we look forward to weighty think pieces on this ongoing crisis of democratic legitimacy.
Complaints about the “Senate popular vote” are also common, but they make even less sense. The existence of states is not a matter of partisan gerrymandering. Raw vote totals don’t always line up with political outcomes, but the gaps vary, and one cause is simple geographic sorting. Democrats can run up their margins in Manhattan and L.A., but that doesn’t win Senate seats in Oklahoma.
Uncontested races can skew the totals, as can jungle primaries, since two Democrats might make the general election. For the record, Republicans have 51.4% of the House vote, versus 47% for Democrats, according to the Cook Political Report, though late California ballots will probably narrow the gap. If the GOP in 2024 makes more gains among minority voters in heavily Democratic districts, that could push up its vote total without flipping seats. This isn’t a crisis. It’s the way our constitutional democracy works.
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