Why Democrats might not retake the House anytime soon

Barring political earthquakes, the type of which haven’t been seen in 12 years, Democrats aren’t likely to regain control of the House, and they might lose several seats in the Senate. No matter how successfully Obama prosecutes his agenda in 2013, this fact won’t change. It explains why he will govern at a remove from Congress for the next few years, and why he was so eager to accept a two-year budget deal that many Democrats found distasteful.

Given the disastrous approval ratings of House Republicans, it’s easy to wonder why Democrats aren’t in better shape. But past elections heavily influence future ones. In 2010, House Republicans won more than 60 new seats, and their partisans in state legislatures set out to draw them as safely as possible for the future. That’s why, in 2012, Democrats won the House popular vote by 1.4 million but managed to net only eight House seats, leaving Republicans with a healthy 33 seat cushion.

As Rhodes Cook notices, House and national presidential vote concentrations are highly synchronized, more so than at any point in nearly 60 years. Only 26 House districts chose a different party’s nominee in the presidential election. Just four years earlier, almost a fifth of all Congressional districts saw a split vote. (The why: Secondary to the party’s growing conservative energy, Republicans have all but consolidated control of formerly Democratic states in the South, squishing and concentrating Democratic voters into small enclaves; in the Northeast, solid Republican districts are similarly sparse.)