One of the things pundits are having a hard time figuring out is why the electorate seems to have come to a point where almost exactly half of the people support the Democratic presidential candidate and half support the Republican. A reason why they are having so much trouble, I believe, is that the answer lies outside the presidential realm and results primarily from changes in Congress.
Poll after poll has consistently shown that the American people like gridlock. They don't trust either party to run the entire government and like having one in a position to check the other. The most recent poll in December 2002 by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found 62 percent of Americans in favor of Congress and the White House being controlled by different parties. Only 29 percent were not in favor.
From 1932 to 1994, the Democrats basically had a lock on Congress. In my view, that is the key to why Republicans were so successful winning the presidency in the postwar period. Voters who couldn't quite make up their minds felt comfortable casting their ballots for a Republican president most of the time because they knew if they made a mistake, the Democrats would still be in a position to exercise restraint and oversight.
The foundation of the Democratic lock on Congress was gerrymandering -- drawing congressional district lines in order to maximize the number of districts with a majority of Democrats in them. This was done by creating a few districts that were virtually 100 percent Republican.
Consider this example. Say you have a region with 2 million voters, half Republican and half Democrat, divided into four congressional districts of 500,000 voters. You create one district of 500,000 Republicans and divide the remaining Republicans among the other three districts. This leaves three districts in which the Democrats win easily by a two-to-one margin.
But to play this game, you have to have control of state legislatures because they draw the congressional lines after each decennial census. It was here that the Republicans had a severe disadvantage. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, from 1956 to 1993, Democrats controlled a majority of state legislatures every year except one, when there was a tie. And in many years, the Democratic majority was overwhelming. In 1974, they controlled both houses of the legislature in 37 states. Republicans had only four, and eight were divided.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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