We believe presenting this information effectively is extremely important. There is a disturbing and powerful message in the array of numbers in this report. We hope all visitors to this site will leave it with a better understanding of U.S. House elections -- and why democracy as practiced in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives has indeed become all too "dubious."
The report features state-by-state statistics on U.S. House elections from 1982 to 2000. It has important information on voter participation and on the degree of competition - or lack thereof - in states over this period of time. Below are links to each state and to our national summary pages. Please contact Rob Richie ([email protected]) or Eric Olson ([email protected]) at the Center if you have any questions.
Just who decides elections to the "people's house" in the United States? The obvious answer is that voters elect the House of Representatives. The not-so-obvious fact is that most Americans, most of the time, experience "no choice" House elections. They live in political monopolies where the talk should be of creating a two-party system, let alone one with viable third parties. With voter turnout shrinking to one of the lowest levels in the world -- a recent study by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance found that in national elections since World War II, the United States ranks 103rd in voter participation out of 131 democracies -- and with deep citizen concern over the impact of money in politics, it is high time that we ask if these political monopolies should continue.
Consider a few examples from the 2000 elections:
- The average victory margin in U.S. House races was 40% -- meaning winners on average won more than 70% of votes cast in their race. Fewer than one in ten races were won by competitive margins of less than 10%.
- Although the number of uncontested seats decreased -- there were 64 in all -- the landslide index increased to a record 77% of all races. This is the highest since before 1992!
- 397 of all 403 incumbents were re-elected -- that is a success rate of 99%! More than two-thirds(285) of seats are held by incumbents who have won their last two elections by "landslide" margins of least 20% (earning our "untouchable" tag).
- Less than 40% of eligible Americans cast a vote in 2000; less than one in three adults voted for the U.S. House member who represents them.
- Republican candidates for the House in 1992 won 45% of votes around the country, but only 41% of seats. In 2000, they won 48% of votes, but 51% of seats. Such swings and distortions are often magnified in particular states.
If the U.S. House is to be the level of election where the American people have their greatest access to the federal government, something is terribly wrong when so few races offer any prospect of change. Unfortunately, while distortions of voter choice and voter intentions may have been dramatic in 2000, they in fact are nothing new. House elections have been non-competitive for decades, and we believe that this lack of competition and the corresponding lack of a need for retail politics has contributed to our ongoing national sag in voter participation.
As an indicator of the likely impact on citizen involvement, consider that many of the states with least competitive elections -- heavily centered in the south -- also have the lowest voter turnout. Another indicator of the interplay between competition and turnout is that the closest races typically have the highest average turnout. Here is a summary chart:
# of Races
We at the Center for Voting and Democracy finger two major culprits for our
non-competitive elections: a winner-take-all electoral system that turns natural
majorities into no-choice elections and typically partisan methods of
redistricting that allow legislators to craft districts "safe" from
competition -- legislators literally choose their constituents before their
constituents choose them. Our web site contains much information about both
redistricting and alternatives to winner-take-all elections.
Dubious Democracy: 2001 exhaustively catalogues just how
non-competitive House elections have been in states around the nation
over the past two "cycles" of redistricting, from 1982 to 1990 and then
from 1992 through the present. We purposely built our study around
redistricting cycles because we believe that the manner in which
legislative districts are drawn is the single most powerful factor in
who wins and loses legislative elections in a winner-take-all electoral
A previous report, Monopoly Politics 1998, is on our web site. In this report, first issued in July 1997, we made predictions (updated in August 1998 only to reflect changes in open seats and special elections) in 83% of House races and were extremely accurate despite those predictions being made without any consideration of campaign developments in 1998 -- including campaign financing and the qualities of challengers to incumbents. Of the 361 races where we predicted winners, 358 (99%) won-- including 346 (96%) by comfortable margins of at least 10%. Of the three predicted winners who lost, two were in open seat elections; thus, of the 340 incumbents we predicted to win in July 1997 who ended up running for re-election, 339 won. (For a sample of our new report, to be released in book form and on the web, please see our listing for Alabama.)
Later this year, we will release two additional reports directly pertaining to U.S. House elections. The first, Monopoly Politics 2001, will again predict winners and victory margins in the great majority of House races and provide extensive evidence of just how powerful the partisan composition of districts is in determining results. The second report will be a state-by-state citizen's guide to redistricting Stay tuned!
Explanation of Statistics and AcknowledgementsThe study relied on a range of election data for this report, including election reports of the Federal Elections Commission and recent editions of the National Journal's Almanac of American Politics, Vital Statistics on Congress and Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America.Estimates of voting-age population are based on the work of Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, who acknowledges that they cannot be determined with pinpoint accuracy. CSAE provides estimates by state only, meaning that determinations of voter turnout by district are based on the voting-age population estimates in 1991-1992 -- and thus do not reflect any changes in voting age population within states. This most clearly has an impact in our report when we list the House districts in a particular state that had the high and low voter turnout.
We also acknowledge the assistance of Richard Winger at Ballot Access Newsfor information on state legislative races, David Bositis at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies for clarifying discrepancies from different sources on black representation and Sheryl Seckel for her information on the impact of control of redistricting on competitiveness. We also thank Election Data Services for its permission to use maps from its excellent The Election Data Book: A Statistical Portrait of Voting in America.
The Center's executive director Robert Richie takes full responsibility for the report -- including any possible errors -- but wishes to acknowledge the tremendous support of several individuals. In past years, Elliott Hibbler, Matt Hougan, Walter Hearne, Thomas Jones, Meg Lewis, Alison Oldham, Zoe Rind, Ken Rumble, Laura Seeley, Karen Taggart David Knight, Caryl-Sue Micalizio, Olga Ryzhkova, Eric Olson, and Cynthia Terrell all spent long hours collecting and organizing data. Dubious Democracy House: 2001 reflects important improvements, additions and changes. Those would not have been possible without the dedicated, careful and essential efforts of Matt Medeiros, Caleb Kleppner, and Robert Loring. They deserve great credit for their work.
Ranking the States (please see left column)
* Representation Index
* Landslide Index
* Average Margin of Victory
* Seats to Votes Distortion
* Democracy Index