NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 1, 2004

The foundation of the Democratic lock on Congress from 1932 to 1994 was gerrymandering -- drawing congressional district lines in order to maximize the number of districts with a majority of Democrats in them. This was done by creating a few districts that were virtually 100 percent Republican, says Bruce Bartlett.

But to play this game, you have to have control of state legislatures because they draw the congressional lines after each decennial census. It was here that the Republicans had a severe disadvantage.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, from 1956 to 1993, Democrats controlled a majority of state legislatures every year except one, when there was a tie. And in many years the Democratic majority was overwhelming:

  • In 1974, they controlled both houses of the legislature in 37 states.
  • Republicans had only four and eight were divided.

In the last few years, however, Republicans have made great strides in the states: They now have majority control in the legislatures of 21; Democrats control 17 and 11 are split.

  • This has allowed Republicans to finally play the gerrymandering game, as they have done so successfully in Texas, which is the main reason why most political observers expect the Republicans to maintain control of the House of Representatives.
  • Also, having more legislative seats gives Republicans a deeper bench of candidates to run for congressional seats.

In coming years, the gridlock factor will tend to help Democratic presidential candidates as long as Republicans keep Congress. For now, it helps explain why the electorate is equally divided, says Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Americans Love Gridlock," National Center for Policy Analysis, November 1, 2004.


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