Dubious Democracy: Updated FairVote Report Shows Dysfunctional House Elections

by Devin McCarthy // Published February 11, 2013
Dubious Democracy 2012

Since 1994, FairVote has released a biennial report on American congressional elections called "Dubious Democracy."  As official data for the 2012 congressional elections is now available, FairVote now presents its metrics for assessing the current state of American democracy, with comprehensive data for every congressional election dating back to 1982.

Dubious Democracy evaluates the level of competition and accuracy of representation in congressional elections for every state and every congressional district. You can see the release of our report up to the 2010 elections online here. To get the 2012 data, you can download the Microsoft Excel data sheet here.

The full Dubious Democracy 2012 report is still forthcoming, but a comprehensive investigation is not necessary to see the story that the 2012 election data tells. The trend in recent U.S. congressional elections toward uncompetitive elections and inaccurate representation continued in 2012, and by some metrics was worse than ever.

In 2012, the average two-party margin of victory was 36.5%, up 3.5% from 2010.  In the aftermath of the 2011-2012 redistricting process, there were only 28 "tight races" and 33 "opportunity races," down from 36 and 45, respectively, in 2010. Over a third of all votes - 35.2% - were wasted (cast for non-winning candidates) in 2012.

The 2012 elections saw the largest overall seats-to-votes distortion since 1992: an average of 4.4% between the two major parties. Distortion was especially noticeable in 2012 because the party that won the most votes did not win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. If seats were apportioned in proportion to the percentage of the raw popular vote in 2012, Democrats would have won 214 seats, Republicans 209 seats, and independent candidates 12 seats.

There were also five examples of states where one party received a majority of votes but the other party received a majority of seats, ranging from Arizona (where Democrats won more seats with fewer votes under a plan drawn by an independent redistricting commission) to North Carolina (where Republicans won more than two-thirds of seats with a minority of the vote).

No state broke 50% in the Representation Index - that is, in no state do more than half the eligible voters have a House representative for whom they voted. In contrast, many nations using fair voting alternatives to winner-take-all voting have a Representation Index well above 70%.

The state that ranked highest in 2012 in the "Democracy Index" (taking into account average margin of victory, voter turnout, percentage of landslide races, seats-to-votes distortion, and percentage of people voting for a winning candidate) was Minnesota. The state that ranked lowest was Oklahoma.

Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for the complete version of Dubious Democracy 2012, as well as the forthcoming Monopoly Politics 2014 report that will anticipate the likely undemocratic nature of the 2014 congressional midterm elections.