Updated 12:50 pm ET: Democrats won the House popular vote – those who voted in House elections -- but only made modest gains and Republican retained control of the body.
Why? Redistricting was a big reason. Republicans controlled key governorships and state legislatures, winning several of those important, but out-of-the-spotlight races over the past few cycles.
And a Republican pollster says, “There’s no crying in redistricting.” That’s because this isn’t the first time this disparity has been seen. In fact, the tables were turned in the 1970s and 1980s.
Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducts the NBC-WSJ poll with Democrat Peter Hart, notes in an email and three-page memo:
“Republicans captured 49.4% of the two-party vote for Congress in 2012, yet won 54% of the seats in the House. This gap between the Republican vote and the seats they won is on the high side, but certainly not without precedent over the past 40 years. If you began your career as a Republican trying to win the House in the 1970s and 1980s, you would adopt, as I do, the borrowed adage ‘there’s no crying in redistricting.’”
From the memo:
“During the Reagan sweep in 1980, Republicans essentially broke even in terms of the two-party vote cast (49%), yet were only able to win 44% of the seats…the same type five point gap being bemoaned today. Similarly, there was an especially large gap between the Republican percentage of the vote in 1990 versus the percentage of seats won (46% of the vote, 38% of the seats).”
According to the attached tables provided by McInturff, however, there has never been an instance -- aside from 2012 -- in which one party won a majority of the popular vote, but not a majority of seats. 1980, as noted above, came the closest.
"Yes," that's true, McInturff said in a follow-up email, "because the 1970s and 1980 lines were so massively unfair ... and, of course, there's probably no question Republicans, on balance, 'baked in' an important advantage with this set of lines around the country."
“Finally, having said that, there is a legitimate public policy discussion about the merits of there being a relationship between the votes cast by the American electorate and the composition of the House. Don’t worry. Forty years of data suggest if a party is able to convince a comfortable majority of Americans to vote for their congressional candidates, they will be rewarded with a majority of the House. As always, though, a relative tie goes to the existing party in power.”
McInturff as well as the liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, says with this current redistricting map, Democrats would like need to win by about 7 percentage points to take back the House.