Gerrymandering / Redistricting and How it Affected the 2012 Election
What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering (also known by its official name: redistricting) is the process of redrawing congressional districts in so that they will greatly favor one particular party in the next election. For instance, The Republican Party will redraw (as it did in 2010) a district so that it has little to no minority population and in the process, create another district that has too high a percentage of minorities, thus reducing the effect they have in the overall election results.
Who Controls the Redistricting Process?
The process is controlled by whichever party is in control in the House of Representatives. So, whichever party is in control uses the redistricting process to strengthen the seats they already hold, and weaken the seats they seek to convert, thus solidifying their majority. Seems like a conflict of interest, you say? Indeed it is.
Some states have started to use an independent commission (Iowa, for example) to draw the district lines, thereby removing the chance for gerrymandering. The chance for this happening on the federal level is next to none. Doing so would essentially be a large political power loss for whichever party passed such a measure, and is therefore quite unlikely.
Partisanship on the Increase
The main negative of gerrymandering is the increased partisan environment it creates. We are seeing the fruits of the Republicans labor right now. Currently, most Republicans do not want to negotiate or compromise with the President because they don't feel that their congressional seat is competitive with Democrats, therefore reducing the need for any bipartisanship. The only threat to their seat actually comes from their own party now in the form of primary challenges from Tea Party candidates, who are usually to the far right of most conservatives. Many more pragmatic Republican senators have already been kicked out of office by Tea Party candidates because of this.
This is not to say that Democrats haven't abused this power either. They have and will continue to do so in the future. It's odd to find something that has such bipartisan participation and yet, destroys bipartisanship in the process.
How Did This Affect the 2012 Elections?
In the outcome of the 2012 elections, President Obama was re-elected, the Democrats expanded their control of the Senate, and most importantly, House Republicans maintained their majority, albeit with fewer seats. But, there's an interesting hidden fact about how they maintained their majority. It turns out that House Republicans actually received fewer votes than Democrats in total (53,822,442 to 54,301,095, respectively). So, in essence, the American people's voice was not heard simply because of gerrymandering.
The Republicans used their newly formed majority in 2010 to rewrite the district lines (as is done every ten years) and therefore strengthening their majority in the House, which allowed them to maintain their majority even while losing the popular vote in the process.