Congressional elections should determine the membership and direction of Congress, which was intended to be the branch "first among equals" in our national government. Too often, however, congressional elections are uncompetitive, leaving voters with little power too choose their representation and few reasons to turn out to vote.
FairVote’s Monopoly Politics is a bi-annual project conducted before each election cycle to predict the results of all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. First developed in 1997 as a forerunner to the Cook Partisan Voting Index and later refined to systematize its weighting of incumbency, Monopoly Politics’ influential methodology relies solely on prior voting patterns to make its predictions, rather than polling data and other inputs that capture more transitory changes in the political landscape. Based on its predictive success, this methodology is sound: Monopoly Politics’ high-confidence projections were over 99% accurate for five of the last six election cycles.
The key takeaway from Monopoly Politics is that nearly every election continues to reinforce our original insight that partisanship is becoming the primary determinant of electoral outcomes. As the incumbency bump falls and crossover representatives grow rarer, voters are falling back into patterns of local partisanship to elect their representatives, regardless of a candidate's political experience or name recognition. The result is a polarized system where candidates are rewarded for adopting hyper-partisan platforms, particularly in hyper-partisan districts, instead of championing inclusive policies and bipartisan compromise that benefit all.
A FairVote project issued biannually from 1994 to 2018, Dubious Democracy provides a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the level of competition, rate of voter participation, and share of votes cast for losing candidates in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives in all 50 states. With analysis of data since 1982, the report ranks each state on a "democracy index" based on average margin of victory, percentage of seats to votes, how many voters elect candidates and number of House races won by overwhelming landslides.
Dubious Democracy provides one overriding insight: Although our constitutional framers gave the House of Representatives extraordinary powers and, of all the branches of government, the clearest accountability to the American people, that accountability has been destroyed beyond recognition by winner-take-all election rules that magnify the incumbency advantage and redistricting.
Dubious Democracy 2018 highlighted the chronic lack of competition and accountability in U.S. House elections across the nation. Of the 435 total U.S. House races in 2018, one in 11 were uncontested by a major party and three in five were decided by at least 20 points. Only one-fifth of all races were decided by less than 10 points. On average, the margin of victory between the winner and the runner-up for a U.S. House seat was 32 points.
In addition to being uncompetitive, election results have also been far from fair. Under a fair, proportional system, a party should earn roughly as many seats as votes cast for them across each state. In 2018, however, the states that elect at least three Representatives had a median seats-to-votes distortion of over 20 percentage points. That means that in half of those states, one of the two major parties received at least 20 percent more seats than they earned by their vote share. For instance, Democrats in California received 20.2% more seats than they earned by their share of votes while Republicans in Ohio received 22.6% more seats than they earned by their share of votes.
The authority of our government is grounded in the power of the people to choose their representatives. No Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, "The People's House," has ever taken office without an election. However, though the 17th Amendment to the Constitution requires election of all senators, it also gives states the option to fill vacancies by gubernatorial appointment. No federal mechanism exists to guarantee that all U.S. Senators – just as is the case for all U.S. House Members – serve via democratic processes. Since the passage of the 17th amendment, almost a quarter of all U.S. Senators who have ever served were originally appointed.
FairVote believes that all Members of Congress, in both houses, should be solely accountable to the voters of their states and districts, not to a sole individual with his or her own personal and political agenda. Instead of filling vacancies through shady backroom deals, seats in the U.S. Senate should be filled, in all circumstances, by direct election.
More than 30 states allow the governor to appoint a senator until the next regularly scheduled statewide general election, rather than calling for a special election. Track laws by state through NCSL.