The Historically Undersized Pennsylvania Democratic US House Delegation

PA US House Map 2013

It’s bad

Pennsylvania Democrats have come out swinging early and often this year as the party aggressively mounts a campaign to retake the governorship in the 2014 cycle with U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz perhaps the strongest of many declared candidates seeking to upend the seemingly vulnerable Tom Corbett.

A much bigger challenge for the party, however, is to recapture some of the U.S. House seats lost in recent cycles with redistricting (and perhaps a few underachieving campaigns) resulting in the party’s worst performance in congressional races in a presidential cycle since before the Great Depression.

As things currently shape up, D.C.’s major prognosticators list 10 of the GOP’s 13 Pennsylvania U.S. House seats as “safe” with three seats occasionally popping up on the “likely Republican” or “lean Republican” lists: Pat Meehan in the 7th CD, Mike Fitzgerald in the 8th CD, and Keith Rothfus in the 12th CD.

As such, barring an unforeseen tsunami in a mid-term election with the party’s president in the White House, Democrats will continue to languish with a paltry number of U.S. House seats that – just like in neighboring Ohio – is historically unprecedented.

So just how bad do things stand for the Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. House delegation?

A Smart Politics analysis finds that in 2012 Pennsylvanians elected the lowest number (five) and lowest rate (27 percent) of U.S. Representatives by a major party whilst simultaneously casting its electoral votes for that party’s presidential nominee across the 47 presidential election cycles since the birth of the modern two-party system in 1828.

The 2012 Democratic U.S. House candidates in Pennsylvania broke their own record in futility set in 2004 when John Kerry carried the Keystone State as the party captured just seven of 19 seats in the nation’s lower legislative chamber, or 36.8 percent.

That record was beaten last fall when only five Pennsylvania Democrats won House seats in the newly drawn map of 18 congressional districts, even though President Barack Obama carried the state by 5.4 points over Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket and Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Casey defeated Tom Smith by 9.1 points.

The only time a smaller percentage of House seats was won by the party of Pennsylvania’s victorious presidential candidate was in 1912, when third party Progressive nominee Teddy Roosevelt scored a plurality victory while two Progressives won House contests: Willis Hullings in the 24th CD and Henry Temple in the 28th.

The five races won by the Democrats in 2012 was also the lowest number as well as lowest rate of seats captured by the party in a presidential election cycle since the Calvin Coolidge administration.

In the Election of 1928, the GOP was victorious in 35 of Pennsylvania’s 36 U.S. House races with John Casey the lone Democrat to claim a seat that November.

To be sure, Democratic U.S. House candidates in Pennsylvania have fared poorly in many presidential election cycles over the last several decades, scoring an ever lower percentage of House seats a dozen times since 1828:

· 1860: 24.0 percent, 6 of 25 seats
· 1872: 18.5 percent, 5 of 27 seats
· 1880: 25.9 percent, 7 of 27 seats
· 1888: 25.0 percent, 7 of 28 seats
· 1896: 10.0 percent, 27 of 30 seats
· 1900: 13.3 percent, 4 of 30 seats
· 1904: 3.1 percent, 1 of 32 seats
· 1908: 12.5 percent, 4 of 32 seats
· 1916: 16.7 percent, 6 of 36 seats
· 1920: 2.8 percent, 1 of 36 seats
· 1924: 0.0 percent, 0 of 36 seats
· 1928: 2.8 percent, 1 of 36 seats

But what makes the 2012 and 2004 cycles so unusual for the party – and different from these aforementioned dozen hapless cycles – is that the Democratic presidential candidate carried Pennsylvania at the top of the ticket.

Overall, the party of the victorious presidential candidate in the Keystone State has won an average of 62.9 percent of U.S. House contests across the 47 cycles since 1828 – or more than twice the rate of victory by the Democratic Party in 2012.

And while Democrats remain optimistic about their chances to win Pennsylvania’s 2014 gubernatorial race, that will not alleviate their deficit in the nation’s lower legislative chamber, at least to the extent redistricting has cornered the party into several “unwinnable” districts across the state.

To effectuate change on that front, the key cycle will be 2018, when the party will need to not only win the governor’s mansion but also retake the state legislature, which crafts such redistricting maps in the first instance.

And then there is this final tidbit: the 27.8 percent of U.S. House seats won by Pennsylvania Democrats in 2012 is the second lowest rate in state history for the party that won the White House.

A lower rate can only be found in 1916: Woodrow Wilson narrowly won reelection over Republican Charles Hughes while Democrats won only six of 36 seats from the Keystone State, or 16.7 percent. (Hughes carried Pennsylvania by 14 points).

Overall, Pennsylvania has sent an average of 60.3 percent of its U.S. Representatives to D.C. in presidential election cycles who were of the same party as the winner of the White House.

Percentage of Pennsylvania U.S. House Seats Won by Party of Winning Presidential Candidate, 1828-2012

Cycle
PA Pres Vote
Democrat
GOP/Whig
3rd Party
Total
% Seats PA Pres Party
2012
Democrat
5
13
0
18
27.8
2008
Democrat
12
7
0
19
63.2
2004
Democrat
7
12
0
19
36.8
2000
Democrat
10
11
0
21
47.6
1996
Democrat
11
10
0
21
52.4
1992
Democrat
11
10
0
21
52.4
1988
Republican
12
11
0
23
47.8
1984
Republican
13
10
0
23
43.5
1980
Republican
13
12
0
25
48.0
1976
Democrat
17
8
0
25
68.0
1972
Republican
13
12
0
25
48.0
1968
Democrat
14
13
0
27
51.9
1964
Democrat
15
12
0
27
55.6
1960
Democrat
14
16
0
30
46.7
1956
Republican
13
17
0
30
56.7
1952
Republican
11
19
0
30
63.3
1948
Republican
16
17
0
33
51.5
1944
Democrat
15
18
0
33
45.5
1940
Democrat
19
15
0
34
55.9
1936
Democrat
27
7
0
34
79.4
1932
Republican
11
22
0
33
66.7
1928
Republican
1
35
0
36
97.2
1924
Republican
0
36
0
36
100.0
1920
Republican
1
35
0
36
97.2
1916
Republican
6
29
1
36
80.6
1912
Progressive
12
22
2
36
5.6
1908
Republican
4
27
1
32
84.4
1904
Republican
1
31
0
32
96.9
1900
Republican
4
26
0
30
86.7
1896
Republican
3
27
0
30
90.0
1892
Republican
10
20
0
30
66.7
1888
Republican
7
21
0
28
75.0
1884
Republican
8
20
0
28
71.4
1880
Republican
7
18
2
27
66.7
1876
Republican
10
17
0
27
63.0
1872
Republican
5
22
0
27
81.5
1868
Republican
8
16
0
24
66.7
1864
Republican
9
15
0
24
62.5
1860
Republican
6
19
0
25
76.0
1856
Democrat
15
10
0
25
60.0
1852
Democrat
16
9*
0
25
64.0
1848
Whig
9
13*
2
24
54.2
1844
Democrat
12
10*
2
24
50.0
1840
Whig
15
13*
0
28
46.4
1836
Democrat
18
3*
7
28
64.3
1832
Democrat
14
0
14
28
50.0
1828
Democrat
24
0
2
26
92.3
Total
 
504
766
33
1,303
62.9

* Whig Party. Note: Far right column denotes the percentage of House seats won by the party of the winning presidential candidate in Pennsylvania. In 1828 and 1832 Pennsylvania elected 24 and 14 Jacksonian (Democrats) respectively to the U.S. House of Representatives. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

——

Smart Politics is a non-partisan political news site authored and founded in 2006 by Dr. Eric Ostermeier, a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. If you have any questions about Smart Politics please contact the author.

Originally posted here. Republished with permission.

June 24th, 2013 | Posted in Features, Front Page Stories, Guest Commentary, Redistricting Watch, Top Stories | 9 Comments

9 thoughts on “The Historically Undersized Pennsylvania Democratic US House Delegation”

  1. K. Adams says:

    Gotta give Fitzpatrick credit – PA08 looks to me like the only district that *wasn’t* gerrymandered to give the incumbent some political cover

  2. fdsa says:

    @Adam,
    The Republican held seats are quite competitive…
    Cook PVI (R v. O 2012 per Daily Kos):
    PA-6: R+2 (50.6 – 48.1)
    PA-7: R+2 (50.4 – 48.5)
    PA-8: R+1 (49.4 – 49.3)

    Those numbers aren’t so one sided that the Democrats can’t win in those districts. The DCCC should consider an end to propping up DC carpetbaggers like Manan Trivedi and Kevin Strouse when they have to face established incumbents from the area.

    Philadelphia’s three representatives take a bulk of the Democratic vote in the region:
    PA-1: D+28
    PA-2: D+38
    PA-13: D+13

  3. Greg says:

    This shows the power of Republican gerrymandering where Republicans select their voters in districts that fail to represent the ethnic and racial diversity of the state and are designed to gain and keep power and diminish the impact of the voters on Election Day.

  4. Adam B. says:

    As others have noted, it would not be difficult to draw a fair map which made all four Philly suburban districts competitive for both parties, as opposed to packing Dems in PA-13 while making PA-6/7/8 all GOP-leaning.

  5. fdsa says:

    @District 7, Meehan won his first term in 2010 by 11 points, prior to redistricting. Add on an extra few points for the incumbency advantage in 2012 and it’s really not that significant. Meehan also outraised his opponent by almost 5 to 1, which is significant in the crowded Philly media markets. http://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary.php?id=PA07&cycle=2012

  6. District 7 says:

    You’re right that Democrats are overwhelmingly concentrated in a small number of geographic areas, but the most recent redistricting amplified this in unconscionable ways. Take my own congressional district, PA-7. It was held by a Democrat just four years ago, but it has been mangled beyond recognition, and in 2012, it went 60-40 for Pat Meehan. That is a result of gerrymandering, not Democrats’ natural geographic concentration.

  7. fdsa says:

    To illustrate my point, if you remove Philadelphia and Allegheny counties from the vote totals for PA, Romney wins by approximately 6 points (53-47). Since these two counties are almost entirely represented by Democrats Brady, Fattah, and Kelly, it’s not surprising to see that the outcome of the remainder of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation.

  8. fdsa says:

    The reason why the numbers are so distorted is that Democrats are excessively concentrated in small geographic areas in Pennsylvania. No changes to reapportionment can make up for the fact that the cities are 75 % to 80% Democratic. In 2012, there were 59 divisions in Philadelphia that didn’t count a single Romney vote. http://mobile.philly.com/news/?wss=/philly/news/politics/&id=178742021&viewAll=y Given that congressional districts must have geographical boundaries, it’s not hard to understand that Democrats are at a disadvantage when it comes to redistricting because there are only so many ways that you can split up D+90 voting districts. The margins in rural and suburban precincts are much less substantial.

  9. Policyguy says:

    This is further evidence that the reapportionment process has to be changed. The argument that “both sides would do this” isn’t sufficient reason to allow such egregious gerrymandering to occur. The current plan divides communities of interest (take a close look at the maps); makes the closed primary elections much more significant than the general election; and distorts the interests of voters (Pennsylvania voters preferred Democratic congressional candidates by 51% to 47%, despite the fact that there were a number of virtually uncontested elections. There was only one congressional election in the state that had a margin of victory of 5% or less.) Why wait until 2018 ro 2020 or 2022? Change the system now.

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