NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Redistricting Result in Safer Seats

June 19, 2002

There will be fewer tough House races this year, because redistricting has largely aimed at consolidating and strengthening the position of incumbents -- both Republicans and Democrats -- according to political analysts. Democrats will have difficulty picking up the six additional House seats they need to capture a majority. And Republicans probably won't significantly expand their base.

  • Some 391 House races feature one strongly-favored candidate this fall -- compared to 314 in 1992.
  • There are only 11 toss-up races, the Cook Political Report estimates -- one-fourth the number in 1992.
  • There isn't a single toss-up race in such major states as Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, New Jersey, New York or Florida.

Volatility in House races seems to be a thing of the past.

  • In the first 14 elections after World War II, one party or another gained an average of 27 seats.
  • But in the past 14 elections, the average switch was 16 seats.

Beginning 10 years ago, sophisticated computer-software packages allowed partisan mapmakers to match new census data with their own files on neighborhoods' voting histories. Faster and cheaper computers have allowed more people with an interest in the outcome -- such as House incumbents -- to use that software to their own benefit.

Though redistricting plans can be challenged on constitutional grounds, courts have recognized that the processes that produced them are inherently political.

Source: John Harwood, "House Incumbents Tap Census, Software to Get a Lock on Seats," Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2002.


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