Politics of dirt redux

Have you ever wondered why Republicans now dominate the House and may regain control of the Senate despite Obama’s winning by significant margins in two national elections? Moreover, Democrats as a whole secured far more votes in 2012 than did the Republicans. How can this be?

Some have fingered GOP gerrymandering, carving out more safe districts for their candidates than for the opposition. But suppose the electoral results reflect population distribution. Writing for the New York Times, Nate Cohn suggests that liberal Democrats cluster in cities while conservative Republicans spread themselves over vast rural regions. Since more people live in urban centers than on farms Democrats hold a plurality of the votes. Cohn:

More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live — metropolitan or rural — dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities — like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham — lean Democratic.

In presidential races, Democrats used to win by expanding their appeal beyond urban areas, particularly in the South, but Mr. Obama took a different path to victory in 2008 and 2012. He won the nation’s largest cities with more than 80 percent of the vote — margins that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson could only have dreamed of. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, didn’t win the countryside as decisively as Mr. Obama won the big cities.

In effect, there are a lot of “wasted votes” when it comes to congressional elections. Cohn continues:

The gap between staggering Democratic margins in cities and the somewhat smaller Republican margins in the rest of the country allows Democrats to win key states in presidential and Senate elections, like Florida and Michigan. But the expanded Democratic margins in metropolitan areas are all but wasted in the House, since most of these urban districts already voted for Democrats. The result is that Democrats have built national and statewide majorities by making Democratic-leaning congressional districts even more Democratic, not by winning new areas that might turn congressional districts from red to blue.

The Times includes this graphic:

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.19.07 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to permanent dysfunction.

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