December 3, 2016
As I was checking the final vote totals for the congressional races in Virginia, so as to prepare the map below, I noticed something ver-r-ry interesting: the party that won a large majority of the races (seven out of eleven) actually received fewer total votes than the other party! "But how can that be?" you ask. Welcome to the wonderful world of gerrymandering! That's the game where the status quo Powers-That-Be contrive the electoral contests in such a way as to guarantee a disproportionate number of victories. In Las Vegas, stacking the deck like this would put you behind bars, or get you run out of town at the very least. But in most of the U.S.A. it's just "politics as usual."
Let's look at the numbers. As seen in the table below, the Republicans won 1,843,010 total votes in Virginia (48.74%), while the Democrats won 1,859,426 total votes (49.17%). The Republicans' average margin of victory was 22.51%, while the Democrats' average margin of victory was a whopping 41.55%. In other words, many of the Democrats' votes were "wasted" in races in which the Republicans had no real chance of winning. (In gerrymandering lingo, that's called "packing" districts with the opposing party's voters.) Is that fair? It depends who you ask. Usually, whichever party happens to be in control sees nothing at all wrong with such practices. Currently, the Republicans have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate, and a huge 66-34 advantage in the House of Delegates. Back when the Democrats were the dominant party in Virginia (until the 1990s, more or less), they used gerrymandering tricks all the time.
If voter outrage over such electoral outcomes seems a bit muffled (especially compared to Donald Trump's victory, which -- though dismaying -- was 100% legitimate), there is a good reason for that: The state legislators want voters to feel helplessly detached from participating in self-government. It's probably true in many states, but especially so in Virginia, where a privileged political elite has ruled with very little accountability to the voters for most of the commonwealth's history. Over the years, Richmond politicians have created a self-perpetuating cycle of cynicism and apathy, and frankly there is no easy way out of that trap. Things could get messy. (Indeed, Trump's victory is a perfect example of what happens when the usually-docile and alienated masses are suddenly aroused.) Time will tell whether Virginia Democrats (who have won the past three presidential elections) will get themselves well enough organized at the local level to become competitive in the state legislature.
On July 12, I attended a meeting of OneVirginia 2021, a group that is dedicated to reforming the process of redistricting here in Virginia. It is worth pointing out, as discussed in that earlier post, that Federal courts imposed redrawn district lines earlier this year so as to make some of the districts less blatantly gerrymandered. Otherwise, the Republicans in Virginia would probably still have an 8-3 advantage in congressional seats, rather than a 7-4 advantage. I think it's safe to say that the results of the elections provide plenty of ammunition for those who argue that the current system is hopelessly distorted and unjust. Our state government is dangerously out of touch with the sentiments of the residents, and the negative consequences of that are likely to multiply as time passes. Just to be clear, notwithstanding my criticism of Republican leaders and their practices, I have no sympathies for the Democratic Party or its agenda. But in my view, those who adopt a cynical "whatever it takes to win" mentality are the scum of the earth.
The table below has updated official figures, and replaces the table which I posted on November 9:
The Politics in Virginia page has been updated with that map and revised election figures. (The last major revision of that page was on Feburary 29, when I included the results of the 2015 statewide elections. As usual, almost all of the gerrymander-cushioned Virginia legislators were reelected.) Soon to come: a map showing the presidential election results for each county and city in Virginia.
On Wednesday, the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives voted to keep Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader, beating back a challenge by Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. As Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post, the fact that she now has an unbeatable position within her party is "a bad thing for Democrats." For the time being, they can be expected to continue courting a wide variety of minority groups and fringe causes, while ignoring Mainstream America -- especially the working class. Facing up to the reality of Donald Trump's improbable victory, and what it means, will not be easy for them.
And now for a fun trip down Memory Lane, back when she was Speaker of the House on the verge of a historic triumph with Obamacare: (watch on youtube.com)
But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010