According to a Quinnipiac poll released today, if the election were held today 43 percent of the electorate would support a Democratic U.S. House candidate, as opposed to just 35 percent who would back a Republican. That 8 point lead for Democrats is significantly more than the GOP’s margin of victory during the 2010 Republican wave election (6.6 percent) and even more that the Democratic margin of victory during the 2006 wave (7.9 percent) — when Democrats were bolstered by both an unpopular Republican president and a failing war in Iraq. And yet, if Democrats succeed in maintaining this substantial lead through next year’s congressional election, they will likely emerge with a tiny majority of just 5 seats.
Last January, the Republican Party published a triumphant report bragging that “Republicans enjoy a 33-seat margin in the U.S. House seated yesterday in the 113th Congress, having endured Democratic successes atop the ticket and over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans.” The report touts the role GOP gerrymandering played in enabling Republicans to keep the House despite losing the popular vote, citing states like Michigan, where “Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress.”
Indeed, Republican gerrymandering was so successful during the last redistricting cycle that Democrats would likely need to win the national popular vote by more than 7 points in order to win the barest of majorities in the House. In 2012, gerrymandering enabled 215 House Republicans to win their elections by at least 8 points or more — only 218 seats are needed to control a majority of the House. Thus, assuming Democratic gains are evenly distributed nationwide, even if Democrats won the 8 point landslide predicted by the Quinnipiac poll they would control the House by only a narrow 220-215 margin. If this poll is off by just one point, and Democrats win by only 7 points, Republicans will retain control of the House by a single seat.
This is not democracy. It does not even approximate democracy. It is a series of elections that create the illusion of democracy while they are actually rigged to make it nearly impossible for Republicans to lose. As one Princeton study determined, it’s as if 1.7 million fewer Democrats had simply not showed up to vote in seven key states.
It’s also largely the fault of the Supreme Court. Although partisan gerrymandering violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on viewpoint discrimination, a 5-4 Supreme Court decided in Vieth v. Jubelirer to simply ignore such constitutional violations.