NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

House Members Nesting

July 18, 2003

Very few elections for the U.S. House of Representatives are competitive, points out political consultant Dick Morris. Election to a House seat is almost a guarantee of lifetime tenancy, and a series of bipartisan deals during the reapportionment following the 2000 census insured most incumbents kept their seats.

  • After the 1980 census, 43 incumbents bit the dust; after 1990, 39 lost their seats.
  • But, as a result of the bipartisan deals, only 16 lost in the first election after the 2000 census.
  • Eight House incumbents lost to other incumbents and four others were defeated in their own party primaries.
  • A grand total of four House members lost their seats to challengers from the other party in the 2002 elections; that's less than one percent of the House.

While states are passing term limits, Congress is engineering lifetime tenure, says Morris.

So, even as the United States becomes more evenly divided between the parties than ever before, a seat in the House of Representatives is as secure as any civil-service job. The only reason U.S. Senate seats stayed competitive is that the politicians cannot gerrymander state lines, explains Morris.

The solution? Iowa has passed a law establishing a nonpartisan reapportionment commission and explicitly prohibiting it from taking political factors like incumbency, party or voting habits into account. The result? Four of the 20 competitive seats in the House come from this state with but one percent of the U.S. population, says Morris.

Source: Dick Morris, "House of Unrepresentatives," Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB10584867513670800,00.html


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