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Should Nancy Pelosi rightfully be speaker of the House?

The GOP is claiming a mandate for its policy positions because it retained control of the House of Representatives. But Democrats actually won more votes than Republicans did for House seats.

By Correspondent / November 14, 2012

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 14. Pelosi told fellow Democrats in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday that she is willing to run to be their leader again.

Mary F. Calvert/Reuters


Did the American people really “choose” divided government – by electing a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House?

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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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This may sound like a trick question, since that is, after all, the makeup of the federal government that emerged from last Tuesday’s elections.

But Democrats, as well as many in the media, have been challenging this point, by arguing that the majority of voters did not actually choose to put Republicans in control of the House of Representatives – since nationwide, Democrats appear to have won more than half a million more votes for House seats than the GOP.

As a piece in The Huffington Post put it: "If the United States were really as democratic as it aspires to be, John Boehner would be House minority leader, not speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi would be speaker, and Democrats would control the House, the Senate, and the presidency."

So how did House Republicans manage to hang onto power, despite losing the popular vote for House seats? One answer: through gerrymandering – the calculated redrawing of congressional districts to maximize the impact of their own political constituencies. 

As Mother Jones recently explained: "After Republicans swept into power in state legislatures in 2010, the GOP gerrymandered key states, redrawing House district boundaries to favor Republicans. In Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates received half of the votes in House contests, but Republicans will claim about three quarters of the congressional seats. The same is true in North Carolina. More than half the voters in that state voted for Democratic representation, yet Republicans will fill about 70 percent of the seats. Democrats drew more votes in Michigan than Republicans, but they'll take only 5 out of the state's 14 congressional seats."

Others are quibbling with that thesis. Over at The Monkey Cage blog, Eric McGhee argues that redistricting likely accounted for less than half of the gap between the two parties' overall vote share and seat share. The bigger factors, he posits, were incumbency and the fact that much of the Democratic vote tends to be clustered together in urban centers, leading to huge margins of victory in those areas that essentially "wastes" votes.


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