The political coverage of the upcoming election has been more dissatisfying than usual, perhaps because I remain under the spell of the authors of Off Center and, to a lesser extent, Tom Edsall. National polls never matter much, but they matter less than ever in an off-year election where districts are drawn to look like pretzels and money can either increase or depress turnout, whatever is needed. The Republican structural advantage is both categories is more powerful than the feelings of voters across the land, I fear. According to a Washington Post analysis, here: "Democrats spent more heavily over the summer and early autumn than their Republican rivals in pivotal House districts, leaving themselves at a disadvantage of more than 2 to 1 in money on hand. GOP candidates hold an average cash advantage of $450,000 in 25 of the most competitive districts."
(And this does not include the 527 money, which is largely Republican this year.)
Paul Krugman, here ($), picks up on the second point:
The key point is that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are highly concentrated in a few districts. This means that in close elections many Democratic votes are, as political analysts say, wasted -- they simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the G.O.P. to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts.
My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that because of this ''geographic gerrymander,'' even a substantial turnaround in total Congressional votes -- say, from the three-percentage-point Republican lead in 2004 to a five-point Democratic lead this year -- would leave the House narrowly in Republican hands. It looks as if the Democrats need as much as a seven-point lead in the overall vote to take control.
This is from Off Center and makes the larger point:
Bush had received the exact same vote share in 2004 that he received in 2000 (that is, 48 percent), he still would have managed to win in 239 of the nation's 435 House districts -- or almost 55 percent. He actually won 255 districts in 2004, or almost 59 percent, while winning around 51 percent of the vote (slightly higher if the calculation excludes Ralph Nader's 1 percent). In other words, House districts are now drawn so that an evenly divided country can produce surprisingly lopsided GOP victories. Indeed, the Republicans gained seats in the House in 2004 only because of Tom DeLay's redistricting scheme in Texas.
The mismatch between popular votes and electoral outcomes is even more striking in the Senate. Combining the last three Senate elections, Democrats have actually won two-and-a-half million more votes than Republicans. Yet they now hold only 44 seats in that 100-person chamber because Republicans dominate the less populous states that are so heavily over-represented in the Senate. As the journalist Hendrik Hertzberg notes, if one treats each senator as representing half that state's population, than the Senate's 55 Republicans currently represent 131 million people, while the 44 Democrats represent 161 million."
Remember, much of the fault here lies with the Congressional Black Caucus, who demand majorities so large they can't possibly be challenged. Seventy-percent victories are not enough for them, despite the pleading of their colleagues, they often demand 90 percent. As a result, these votes are wasted, and our system grows ever more unrepresentative and structurally tilted toward the Republicans.
Terry Eagleton, profiled here.
A YouTube moment: Shout it from the mountaintop and out from the sea.
Read the whole Altercation here.