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 since 1994, Dubious Democracy provides a comprehensive ranking of the level of competition, rate of voter participation, and voter consensus for winning candidates in congressional elections in all 50 states.
Dubious Democracy provides one clear picture: Although our constitutional framers gave the House of Representatives clear accountability to the American people, that accountability has been rendered all but meaningless by winner-take-all election rules.
Our Dubious Democracy 2020 report highlights the chronic lack of competition in U.S. House elections across the nation and how it damages democratic accountability. Of the most recent round of U.S. House races in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., only one in three races was decided by 10 points or fewer. One in 16 seats were uncontested by a major party. On average, the margin of victory for winners in contested elections was 28 points. While this is a national problem, individual states’ performance on these key measures of democracy and accountability vary greatly.
In addition to individual seats 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. Nationally, elections met that mark in 2020, with Democrats earning 51% of votes for Congress and also earning 51% of seats. However, this national figure masks troubling trends in many states. States with three or more Representatives had a median partisan skew of 17%. States with large partisan skews include Utah, where Republicans earned 100% of seats but only 61% of votes, and New Jersey, where Democrats earned 83% of seats with only 57% of votes.
We ranked all 50 states on “Voter Voice,” based on their performance on sub-measures including margin of victory, amount of landslide victories, voter turnout, voter consensus for winning candidates, and partisan skew. In higher-ranked states, citizens are more likely to have their voices heard and more likely to make a difference in election outcomes. We also ranked all 50 states on each of these sub-measures. The full dataset is available in this spreadsheet.
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As each state is responsible for drawing their own Congressional maps and setting voter eligibility requirements, every state can improve its standing and the health of their democracy.
Nationwide, replacing winner-take-all elections with a system of proportional representation would solve many of the problems that make democracy dubious in so many states. To provide real choices and improve representation, we need to pass the Fair Representation Act and move to multi-member congressional districts with fair elections based on ranked choice voting.
Find tables of state rankings on each of the sub-metrics below.
See the full dataset here: Dubious Democracy 2020
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.