On Thursday, FairVote released its biennial Monopoly Politics report, which tracks the political landscape by predicting the results of congressional elections solely based on prior voting patterns. The results of the report have been influential in demonstrating the manner in which partisanship has become the primary determinant of election outcomes.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake summarized FairVote’s findings in a recent article for The Fix which analyzed the results of the 2020 House elections. As Blake points out, the “big takeaway” is that “our politics are increasingly less about people and incumbents and more about party.” In his article, Blake discusses FairVote’s tracking of the “incumbency bump,” which calculates how much an incumbent representative benefits from their status in office relative to other members of their party.
“While incumbents gained nearly eight percentage points from this advantage in the 2000 election, that number has steadily dropped to 1.5 points in the 2018 midterm elections and 1.4 points in the 2020 election. In other words, there is increasingly little daylight between being any old candidate with an “R” or a “D” next to your name and someone with those labels who currently holds the seat.”
This finding contributes to the understanding of the increasing role that party labels play in who is elected, reducing the importance of a candidate’s background and experience as well as the need for candidates to appeal to the broader electorate across ideological lines. As Blake points out, the FairVote report found that “only about 60 out of 435 races deviated from a predictable result by more than five points.”
Increasing polarization in American politics can be solved with electoral reform, as more proportional electoral systems create better incentives that allow for improved representation of all ideological constituencies. The Fair Representation Act, which FairVote champions, would do just that through multi-member House districts that elect representatives proportionally with ranked choice voting. In this system, candidates would have an incentive to appeal to voters across party lines as the significant constituencies of Republican voters in liberal districts in New York or Democrats in conservative parts of Mississippi would finally earn representation on the national level.