Progressive and moderate commentators and news outlets have a bizarre habit of repeating right-wing rhetoric – describing anti-abortion advocates as “pro-life,” berating “liberal cities” for crime that was as bad or worse in conservative areas, and, lately, using the term “red wave” as a likely outcome in next month’s midterm elections.
It is a habit news outlets emphatically should not continue on election night 2022. Even if Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, commentators’ evident eagerness to proclaim a “red wave” will be a falsehood unless Republicans actually win a substantial majority of the popular vote – the metric that is supposed to decide which party won.
Case in point: the 2020 general election. Democratic House of Representatives candidates won four million more votes than Republicans, a near-landslide victory that would have resulted in substantial gains in seats in past decades. Yet, because of extreme gerrymandering of congressional districts by Republican legislatures in states they controlled, Democrats lost 16 House seats.
Instead of forcefully building a case for outlawing Republicans’ gerrymandering that denied millions of voters the right to choose their representatives, some centrist Democrats such as James Carville simply capitulated to GOP victory claims and blamed the “loss” on progressive Democrats’ alienating voters with “stupid wokeness” ideas.
Carville credited Republicans with far more nuance than warranted; in practice, their campaigns were crude and visceral. For example, Republicans’ 2020 campaign to win back Oklahoma’s Fifth-District seat, one of the nation’s most divided and where I lived at the time, had nothing to do with positions Democrats had taken on real issues. It simply featured inflammatory images demonizing Nancy Pelosi and branded the moderate Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn as a socialist tool, like all Democrats.
Carville’s and others’ attacks against progressive Democrats contributed to the party’s post-2020 congressional disarray and the failure to abolish gerrymandering. That failure is now proving a disaster.
Since 2020, Republican gerrymandering has become even more extreme. Oklahoma’s Fifth District was mildly gerrymandered as of the 2018 election by tacking two rural counties on to urban, more Democratic Oklahoma City to shade the seat Republican – not enough for the state’s extreme Right. In a surprise redistricting map released at the last minute and rushed through earlier this year, Republican legislators ripped the Oklahoma City metro (whose population approaching 1.5 million merits two compact congressional districts, one urban and leaning Democratic and one suburban and leaning Republican) into three grotesquely misshapen, unrepresentable, rural-dominated districts, one extending 300 miles northwest to the end of the panhandle fronting New Mexico, the second 120 miles south to the Texas border, and the third halfway to Tulsa.
The only palliative available now is for news agencies to accurately report what voters actually vote for rather than succumbing to the media’s primitive “winner-loser” rhetoric. To avoid misleading claims and deflections about the will voters are expressing in the midterm election, news outlets should post a running tabulation of total national votes by party for all House candidates as election night progresses.
If the party that wins the most seats does win the most votes, its partisans would be entitled to crow. However, if the party that wins the most House seats does not win the popular vote, then analysis and commentary on how Congress’s makeup does not reflect the will of American voters should dominate coverage.
Such a national tabulation of total votes by party would serve another analytical purpose. It would delineate which partisan results are due to illegitimate gerrymandering and which are due to one party’s legitimate advantage in mobilizing their voters in down-ballot races.
In 2020, the vote for Democratic House candidates totaled 94.7% of the vote for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, while the vote for Republican House candidates totaled 97.6% of the vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Perhaps more Democrats failed to vote in congressional races, or perhaps Republicans won more crossover votes, or both – facts important to interpreting what American voters intend.
Are Republicans (aided by partisan Supreme Court rulings) exploiting bad-government tricks like gerrymandering or simply mobilizing their voters more effectively – or a combination? By providing a running tabulation of total national votes by party for House seats in their midterm election coverage, news outlets can illuminate the question of whether the election results are truly carrying out the will of the voters, or whether grossly biased schemes are forcing ever-more-extremist minority rule sabotaging American democracy.