By some measures, the 112th Congress isn't just awful; it's literally the worst in American history. The Republican-led House, in particular, has been a national disgrace -- it doesn't pass bills; it undermines the national economy; it fails to complete basic tasks; it ignores jobs and focuses on the culture war; etc.
Around the time this U.S. House voted to end Medicare altogether, polls showed Congress with the lowest approval rating since the dawn of modern polling. American voters in the 2010 midterms elected some of the most manifestly unqualified policymakers in a generation, and the result is a Congress that's hard to watch without covering your eyes.
Given all of this, one might think voters would deliver a massive rebuke in U.S. House races, throwing the unpopular bums out. And yet, very little seems to have changed -- Democrats needed a net gain of 25 seats to reclaim the majority, and they appear to have come about 22 seats short.
How is this possible given public revulsion towards Congress? Sahil Kapur explains:
Experts attribute the GOP's comfortable victory to the timing of the 2010 tea party wave, which gave Republicans huge redistricting advantages that let them alter the congressional map to their benefit.
"Much of this was pre-baked through the redistricting process," Larry Sabato, a leading election expert, told TPM. "The GOP won the House at just the right moment, in a wave election that gave them many governorships and state legislatures in a Census year. Bingo. Many weaker House members elected in 2010 who would have lost in their old districts in 2012 have been given better districts that will reelect them."
Consider Pennsylvania, for example. Seth Michaels noted that if you add up all of the votes Pennsylvanians cast in U.S. House races in 2012, you'll find a pretty even split, with Democrats enjoying a slight edge, 2.71 million to 2.64 million. Given that the state has 18 members in the House, you might think that would translate to 9 or 10 Democrats, right?
Wrong. State GOP lawmakers carefully drew the lines for partisan ends -- only five of the state's 18 members of Congress will be Democrats, even though a majority of Pennsylvania voters backed Democratic candidates.
The game, in other words, was pretty much rigged from the start.