Last week, we released our Dubious Democracy 2016 dataset on U.S. House elections. The story that the 2016 election data tells is damning. Like past elections, the 2016 U.S. House elections proved to be incredibly uncompetitive. As demonstrated in FairVote’s most recent Monopoly Politics report, multiple metrics reveal that inequality and a dearth of competition continue to plague congressional elections.
Overall, almost 97% of incumbent congressmen won re-election in 2016. Of the 392 incumbents who ran for re-election, just 12 lost their races, despite a congressional approval rating, on election day, mired in the teens.
Not only do incumbent congressmen almost always win, they usually win in landslides—classified here as elections where the winning candidate wins by at least 20 points. For instance, out of the 435 U.S. House elections, 321 elections, or 74% of races, were landslide victories.
Among all districts, the average margin of victory for the winning candidate was roughly 36.5%, while the median margin of victory was 31.5%. Furthermore, in the 369 contested* congressional elections, 259 candidates, or roughly 70%, won landslide victories. In fact, the average margin of victory in contested races was just over 30%, while the median margin of victory was 28.5%.
Moreover, just a small fraction of races were even close. For example, of all 435 congressional races, only 16 races, or just 3.7%, were decided by less than five percent, while only 15 of the 369 contested races were decided by less than five points.
Among the 241 Republicans elected in 2016, just five, or 2.1%, won their races by less than five percent, and just 15, or 6.22%, won their races by less than ten points. Among Republicans in contested elections, 2.4% of GOP candidates, five out of 210, won by less than five points, while 7.1% of Republican victors, 15 of 210, won by less than ten percent.
Democratic congressional victories were just barely more competitive. Of the 194 Democrats elected to the 115th Congress, just 11, or 5.7%, won by less than five points, and only 18 Democrats, or 9.3%, won by less than ten points. In contested races, 159 Democrats emerged victorious. In those contested races, under seven percent of Democratic candidates, 11 of 159, won by less than five points, and just over ten percent of Democratic candidates, 17 of 159, won by less than ten points.
In 2016, Republicans had an unfair structural advantage in terms of seats gained versus vote share. Nationally, Republican congressional candidates narrowly defeated Democratic congressional candidates by just over one point, 49.1% to 48%. Republicans also won the two-party vote by just over one point, 50.55% to 49.45%. Yet, Republicans won over 55% of U.S. House seats. Under a purely proportional system, Republicans would have won just 220 seats, to the Democrats 215 seats. Still, the four and one-half point gap between seats won and votes won is small compared to certain state results.
Among states with at least five congressional districts, the average net difference between seats won and votes won was 14.3%. Of states with at least five congressional districts, the most egregious misallocation was Connecticut. Despite Republican candidates receiving over 37% of the congressional two-party vote statewide, Republicans won zero seats. Maryland was the second worst Democratic state, with Democrats receiving just over 60% of the statewide congressional vote, yet winning seven out of eight seats. In Maryland, the net difference between Democratic seats won(87.5%) and vote(60.4%) was over 27%.
Among Republican states, Oklahoma had the most unequal allocation. Democratic candidates received just over 28% of the vote and won zero seats. Moreover, the GOP gerrymander in North Carolina paid dividends as Republican congressional candidates won ten of the Tar Heel State’s thirteen congressional districts, which comes to just under 77% of seats, but only received 53.4% of the statewide congressional vote. On the other hand, the most equitable state was Arizona. In Arizona, Democrats won 42.6% of the statewide vote and carried four of Arizona’s nine congressional districts, or 44.4% of seats.
Finally, despite only losing the national popular congressional vote by about one point, Democrats were not close to winning a majority in the U.S. House. After ranking all Republican candidates by their margin of victory, the 218th largest, the seat which gave the GOP their majority, was Mia Love’s victory in Utah’s 4th. Love won re-election and beat her Democratic opponent by about 12.5%. Furthermore, after ranking Republican congressmen by their share of the vote, the 218th largest share of the vote was Brian Fitzpatrick, who won Pennsylvania’s 8th with 54.4% of the vote. So, by any metric, Democrats were not particularly close to winning back the U.S. House from Republicans.
Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for the complete version of Dubious Democracy 2016, as well as the forthcoming Monopoly Politics 2018 report that will anticipate the likely continued undemocratic nature of the 2018 congressional midterm elections.
*Contested elections are defined as elections were both a Republican and a Democratic candidate ran in the general election.