On Wednesday morning, we will, hopefully, know which party will take the reins in Congress. But with so much emphasis being placed upon the scant swing districts across the country, we thought the safe districts might feel a little left out.
So we took a look at the safest of the safe districts for Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives, using The Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index, or PVI. The Cook PVI classifies any district with a +5 rating as a "safe" district for either Democrats or Republicans.
We upped the ante, and looked at the absolute safest districts for both parties. There are some interesting trends:
Looking at these two extremes gives a vague outline of political polarization in the U.S. It shows that, while every House member represents roughly the same number of people — 710,767, to be exact — those populations can be entirely different.
The first takeaway: Democrats represent more hyper-partisan districts on the whole than Republicans. That is to say, when a district is liberal, it's really liberal.
Take Rep. José Serrano. He represents the diverse Bronx borough of New York City, which is just 10.5 percent white. Nearly all of the voters in New York's 15th District — 96.7 percent — voted for Obama in 2012. A professional Obama impersonator calls the New York borough home. Geographically, Serrano's district is the smallest in the country. The largest? Alaska. That's a difference of roughly 15 square miles versus 570,000.
At the very other end of the partisan spectrum, Rep. Mac Thornberry represents the most heavily Republican House district in the country, covering most of Texas's northern panhandle. Just 18.5 percent of the district's residents voted for President Obama in 2012 — the lowest percentage in the country.
These demographic trends are consistent among heavily Republican and Democratic districts. The safest Democratic seats tend to be in condensed, urban areas, while the safest Republican districts tend to be more expansive, rural areas.
In the 19 safest districts represented by Democrats, 13 members are black, three are Hispanic, and three are white. Eight of the safest Democrats — including Rep. Nancy Pelosi — are women, while 11 are men. By contrast, all 12 of the safest Republican House seats have been held by white men.
There are also noticeable geographic trends. Nine of 12 of the safest Republican districts are in the South. All but three of the safest Democratic districts are in coastal states. Unsurprisingly, the most steadfastly liberal states are New York and California.
For politicians who are lucky enough to represent these hyper-partisan citizens, their districts are like Pleasantville. Everyone loves them, and unless the really screw up or wind up with a primary challenger, they will get reelected with minimal to no effort.
Sure, that sounds like a bad deal for citizens — shouldn't we hold every elected official accountable, rather than rubber-stamp their contracts every two years? Elections, after all, are the closest thing we have to performance reviews for politicians.
That said, not having to worry about political jeopardy can have its perks, and not just for politicians. Campaigning is grueling work, and good campaigning does not necessarily equate to good legislating.
While candidates vying for moderate districts such as IA-03 or CA-07 have to grind away campaigning for months, safe incumbents can focus on doing their jobs. Instead of scheduling stump speeches and coordinating with super PACs, they can build rapport with their constituents and respond to their concerns. Instead of worrying about winning votes, they can break ground on projects in the district, or cohost a book fair, or do any number of things that do not require patriotic bunting.
Of course, this is all with the assumption that politicians have the will and desire to work hard and give back to their communities, which is not always a given. But maybe if fundraising and campaigning weren't so all-consuming in vulnerable members' lives, politicians would stop talking to "voters," and start talking to the people they're supposed to represent.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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