In 2012, the GOP got 49 percent of the (two party) popular vote for the House but managed to snag 54 percent of the seats. That no doubt had something to do with clever boundary drawing (otherwise known as gerrymandering) in states where Republicans controlled the redistricting process.
But it would be a mistake to assume that’s all there is to it. Republicans also benefit from how their votes are distributed spatially, as a very useful post by Kyle Kondik on the Crystal Ball reminds us. His analysis shows that Democratic House districts tend to be small and densely populated, while Republican House districts tend to much bigger and sparsely populated. According to Kondik, Democrats currently hold 87 of the 100 smallest Congressional districts, while the GOP holds 73 of the 100 largest districts. Overall, the GOP holds districts covering 80 percent of the US land mass (!), compared to the Democrats’ measly 20 percent.
Moreover, those small Democratic districts tend to be very Democratic, which wastes a considerable proportion of Democratic votes where they’re not, in a political sense, needed. Kondik notes that Obama won 70 percent of the vote in 61 House districts, while Romney won 70 percent in just 19. The term of art for this is that Republican votes are more “efficiently” distributed to produce Republican victories. That means that, even if there were no gerrymandering to speak of, a Democratic share of the vote that is just over 50 percent would still likely translate into less than 50 percent of House seats.
That’s the dark side of a pattern I commented on in a post a couple of months ago. The Democrats benefit on the Presidential level and in many states from dominating large dynamic metropolitan areas, particularly the most densely populated parts of those areas:
The flip side is an inefficient distribution of Democratic votes in House districts. The only effective way for Democrats to nullify this disadvantage is to push farther out into less densely populated suburbs and metro areas, trying to create or find more Democrats and thereby put more seats in play. Blaming all their problems on gerrymandering or, worse, waiting for 2020 and another redrawing of the map, will simply ensure that current Republican advantages remain intact.