How is it possible that the Democrats, who have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, are at such a disadvantage in the House, theoretically the most representative body of government? It is the biggest paradox in American electoral politics.
Democrats often blame gerrymandering, but that’s not the whole story. More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live — metropolitan or rural — dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities — like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham — lean Democratic.
While acknowledging the role of gerrymandering, which I discuss in the forthcoming 12th Edition as being the most likely explanation for what is going on, Cohen suggests that congressional districts represented by Democrats have a higher fraction of democrats than the districts of Republicans have Republicans. This allows Republicans to win close races out in the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas while Democrats win landslides in the cities. This could easily be a doctoral dissertation because there are a lot of variables in play. Keep in mind, though, that 81 percent of the US population lives within the boundaries of a metropolitan area, and since members of Congress all have the same number of constituents (currently a bit more than 700,000), it is impossible for the exurbs and rural populations to be driving the bus when it comes to elections for the House of Representatives.