Posted by Ashley Houghton on December 17, 2020 at 8:32 AM


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Ashley Houghton, Communications Director
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Report Finds Lack of Competition, Increased Polarization in Congressional Elections

Harder Than Ever For Crossover Incumbents To Keep House Seats 

December 17, 2020 –FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for electoral reforms, released its 2020 iteration of Monopoly Politics today, a report measuring polarization trends within House races. 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’ highest confidence projections were over 99% accurate for five of the last six election cycles. 

Projected outcomes for the November 2020 elections were made in November 2018. Similarly, FairVote will make projections on November 2024 elections in November 2022, but will need to wait on new district lines before projecting the 2022 elections.

The key takeaway from Monopoly Politics 2020 is that nearly every election is reinforcing 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 gradually falling back into patterns of local partisanship to elect their representatives, regardless of 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.

Additional findings: 

  • Monopoly Politics predicted 357 high confidence seats with a 99.7% accuracy rate, accounting for 82.1% of seats in the House of Representatives. This is illustrative of the non-competitive nature of the vast majority of races - only 18% of House races are truly competitive.
  • Political polarization has been particularly high for the last five Congressional election cycles, as measured through crossover representatives, but became even more stark this year. Crossover representatives are Members of Congress who represent districts which favored the opposite party in the previous presidential election. The number of crossover representatives in the House fell from a total of 41 in 2018 to approximately 34 heading to Congress in January 2021 - with some of those exceptions likely resulting from changes in the presidential vote in those districts. A substantial number of defeated crossover representatives were “Blue Wave” Democrats elected in red or swing districts during the 2018 midterms. Compare this to 2010, when there were 73 representatives who represented districts which favored the opposite party in a previous presidential election, or 2008, when there were 81 crossover representatives.
  • The “incumbency bump,” a metric gauging voters’ preference for incumbent representatives, fell to a new low of 1.4% in 2020. The incumbency bump has steadily declined since its modern-era peak in 2000, suggesting that incumbents possess a weakening electoral advantage among voters nationally due to rising partisanship that generally overrides candidates’ views, campaign tactics and characteristics.  
  • There has been a particularly strong increase in political polarization in the last two years in Kentucky (where Republican-held districts became more Republican), New York (Republican-held districts became more Republican), South Carolina (Democrat-held districts became more Democratic), and Tennessee (overall, Democrats gained more ground, but Republicans gained more ground in some districts). North Carolina also saw increased polarization, with traditionally Republican districts becoming more Republican, but this is likely also reflective of its 2019 redistricting.
  • Under current polarization conditions, Democrats won more seats than expected in 2018 due to its strong national advantage, and were therefore primed to lose ground in the House in a more balanced partisan vote this year. 

“If Americans feel as if they are split into red and blue camps more than ever, or that there’s no room for cross-partisan dialogue, there’s a very clear systemic reason for that,” added FairVote President and CEO, Rob Richie. “Our elections fundamentally reward partisanship. We will not be able to clear this hurdle and come together as a nation until we are able to enact the reforms, like the Fair Representation Act, that ensure Americans are more truly represented in the People’s House.”


FairVote is a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans. 


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