Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Does Legislative Representation Properly Represent the Votes of the Electorate? (Part 2)

Last week I looked at how the results of the November 6 election were reflected in party affiliation of the candidates elected to the House of Representatives. Today, I want to continue in that same theme, but with a different state: Pennsylvania. Why Pennsylvania, you ask? I think that the answer will become self-obvious as I get a bit deeper into the analysis. Just remember that the question is whether Congressional representation properly represents the will of the people as reflected by the votes that were cast.

Note that all of the vote total information in this post comes from the website of the Pennsylvania Department of State (as of November 12, 2012).

Before diving into the Pennsylvania races for the House of Representatives, let’s first take a brief look at how the vote totals broke down for the statewide contents in Pennsylvania (minor parties omitted):

President Mitt Romney (R) 2,595,174 46.8%
  Barack Obama (D) 2,887,221 52.0%
Senate Tom Smith (R) 2,430,995 44.6%
  Bob Casey (D) 2,921,798 53.7%
Attorney General David Freed (R) 2,241,524 41.6%
  Kathleen Kane (D) 3,027,541 56.1%
Auditor General John Maher (R) 2,469,766 46.5%
  Eugene Depasquale (D) 2,643,072 49.7%
State Treasurer Diana Vaughan (R) 2,330,049 44.0%
  Robert McCord (D) 2,782,891 52.6%

Democratic candidates won every statewide race and only one of those had a margin of less than 5 points (Auditor General).

So, knowing nothing else, what would you predict for the breakdown of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in the House of Representatives? A little “back of the napkin” math, working from a presumed vote spread of about 52% for the Democratic candidates (rounded up), would suggested that Democrats should have won 9 or 10 of those 18 seats.

But here is the reality:

1st CD John Featherman (R) 39,752 15.0%
  Robert Brady (D) 226,189 85.1%
2nd CD Robert Mansfield, Jr. (R) 31,668 9.4%
  Chaka Fattah (D) 302,746 89.4%
3rd CD Mike Kelly (R) 159,630 54.7%
  MIssa Eaton (D) 119,905 41.1%
4th CD Scott Perry (R) 179,340 59.7%
  Harry Perkinson (D) 103,387 34.4%
5th CD Glenn Thompson (R) 172,616 62.9%
  Charles Duman (D) 101,866 37.1%
6th CD Jim Gerlach (R) 187,008 57.1%
  Manan Trivedi (D) 140,659 42.9%
7th CD Patrick Meehan (R) 203,977 59.5%
  George Badey (D) 139,067 40.5%
8th CD Mike Fitzpatrick (R) 199,283 56.7%
  Kathy Boockvar (D) 152,515 43.4%
9th CD Bill Shuster (R) 165,992 61.6%
  Karen Rambsburg (D) 103,338 38.4%
10th CD Thomas Marino (R) 168,745 65.9%
  Philip Scollo (D) 87,449 34.1%
11th CD Lou Barletta (R) 163,733 58.5%
  Gene Stilip (D) 116,315 41.5%
12th CD Keith Rothfus (R) 167,396 51.5%
  Mark Critz (D) 157,364 48.5%
13th CD Joseph Rooney (R) 92,415 31.0%
  Allyson Schwartz (D) 205,287 69.0%
14th CD Hans Lessman (R) 71,805 23.1%
  Mike Doyle (D) 239,656 77.0%
15th CD Charles Dent (R) 161,231 56.6%
  Rick Daugherty (D) 123,735 43.4%
16th CD Joseph Pitts (R) 154,337 55.0%
  Aryanna Strader (D) 109,026 38.9%
17th CD Laureen Cummings (R) 103,319 39.5%
  Matthew Cartwright (D) 158,422 60.5%
18th CD Tim Murphy (R) 204,784 63.8%
  Larry Maggi (D) 115,975 36.2%

Some observations (I did the math so you don’t have to):

  • Democrats won just 5 of the 18 seats (with Republicans, obviously, winning the other 13).
  • The total number of votes cast in House races was very similar to the total number of votes cast in the other statewide races.
  • The lowest winning percentage by a Democrat was 60.5%; the others received 69%, 77%, 85.1%, and 89.4% of the votes cast in their districts.
  • By contrast, only four winning Republicans received at least 60% of the vote (65.9% being the highest).
  • But here is the amazing statistic: The Democratic candidates received 2,702,901 total votes; the Republicans received 2,627,010 votes. Yes, those numbers are correct. Read them again.
  • In other words, the Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received 50.71% of all votes cast compared to just 49.29% for the Republicans. And yet the Republicans won 13 of 18 races.

Now think about those results for a moment. Democrats won every statewide race, with around 52% of the vote. But they lost 13 of 18 House races, even though they earned nearly 51% of the vote.

Would it surprise you if I told you that for the 2010 redistricting, Pennsylvania’s legislature was controlled by Republicans with a Republican governor? The online journal Real Clear Politics labeled the job that Pennsylvania’s legislature did “the Gerrymander of the Decade”.

Now I’m not suggesting that only Republicans engage in gerrymandering for political purposes. Both sides do it, though I do suspect that an analysis would show that Republicans either do it more or at least more effectively.

In any event, the ability of state legislatures to draw lines that serve not to give voice to the broadest segment of the population, but rather, to insure electoral victories for the chosen party, is a real problem in the overall fairness of our legislative process.

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