By Harold Meyerson
Special to The Washington Post
When Republicans claim that this was a status quo election, they point to their continued hold on the House. The 2012 congressional vote, some have said, didn't undo the party's 2010 successes.
True enough, but that's not because Americans didn't vote to undo them. It's because Republicans have so gerrymandered congressional districts in states where they controlled redistricting the past two years that they were able to elude a popular vote that went the Democrats' way last week.
As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake reported, Democrats narrowly outpolled Republicans in the total number of votes cast for congressional candidates. The margin varies depending on whether you count the races in which candidates ran unopposed and those in which members of the same party faced off (as happened in several California districts). But any way you count it, the Democrats came out ahead — in everything but the number of House seats they won.
Consider Pennsylvania, where President Barack Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey defeated his Republican rival, 53 percent to 45 percent. Yet Democrats won just five of that state's 18 U.S. House seats. They carried both districts in the Philadelphia area — by 85 percent and 89 percent, respectively — and three other districts, by 77, 69 and 61 percent. Of the 13 districts where Republicans prevailed, GOP candidates won seven with less than 60 percent of the vote; in only one district did the Republican candidate's total exceed 65 percent of the votes cast.
Why such lopsided numbers? Because Republican-controlled redistricting after the 2010 Census packed Democratic voters into a handful of imaginatively shaped districts around Pennsylvania's urban centers and created a slew of GOP districts in the rest of the state. The overwhelming Democratic margins in the two heavily African American Philadelphia districts didn't require constructing oddly shaped districts, but carving up the rest of the state to minimize districts that Democrats might win required politically driven line-drawing of the highest order.