I’m curious to see the reaction to this post by David Freddoso. On the one hand, more congressmen and smaller districts means greater accountability, which should please any federalism-lovin’ conservative worth his salt. On the other hand, the idea of adding legislators at a moment when Congress’s approval rating is almost all the way down the drain and tea partiers bristle whenever “D.C.” or “Beltway” is used an adjective seems … counterintuitive.
I think this would be great, just because it would improve most people’s representation qualitatively. Quantitatively, though, the benefits are not so evident. I think the folks who have discussed this idea are confused on a number of levels. For one thing, Wyoming is not the most overrepresented state — by a long way, that distinction goes to Rhode Island, with its two districts, average population 528,000. (As we’ll see in a moment, you could add 100 seats to the Congress and Rhode Island, with two seats, would still be overrepresented.)
Second, their discussion seems to suggest that an enlargement of the House would benefit Democrats because it would add clout to larger states like California. This is incorrect. In fact, it would probably make little difference for either party. And large states like California and Texas are the least likely to benefit (or suffer) greatly from a change in the House’s size. Their large numbers of districts guarantee that they are always close to mean representation, no matter how large the House gets, because they can add them at smaller increments without upsetting the average too badly.
The trick here, obviously, is to increase the total number of representatives without making it so large that the House turns into a chaotic scrum. Follow the link up top and eyeball Freddoso’s numbers; most states now average somewhere in the neighborhood of one congressman for every 700,000 citizens (there are a few outliers) and adding another hundred reps would knock that number down to roughly one per 550,000. Is that a significant difference? Any move towards greater accountability is a welcome move, I suppose, but when you’re talking about populations that vast, what’s 150,000 people here or there?
Something else I’m wondering: If you followed Freddoso’s plan or even expanded upon it to, say, double the number of House seats to 870, what would that do to partisanship inside the chamber? At first blush, my thought was that it would improve cooperation between Democrats and Republicans because (a) it would be harder for the leadership to whip votes and (b) with so many more representatives to keep tabs on, the lefty and righty bases would be less likely to punish any individual congressman for casting an unpopular vote. But now that I think further on it, a bigger House would probably increase partisanship due to redistricting, no? Imagine a district now that’s 60/40 Republican vs. Democrat. That district’s representative has an incentive to cooperate with the other side occasionally to protect his bipartisan cred. If you expand the House, that same district could be carved up into, say, two solidly red districts and one solidly blue one, with base voters in all three districts ready to elect strong partisans who can basically guarantee their re-election year after year as long as they stay ideologically pure. Would that be a better deal than we have now?