A friend of mine commented on Facebook and was questioning when we’ll be able to get rid of the congress that we have now (which has the lowest approval rating for a congress ever). I found a really good example that helps explain the concept and thought I would go ahead and write it out.
Most of us will have to think back to middle school political science to remember gerrymandering. It’s when a political party redesigns the political district boundaries in order (or attempt) to create a more favorable district for itself.
In the case of the US, a state may be 50% Republican and 50% Democrat (for example). But if one party gets to redistrict the voting map, then they can put all of the opposing party into a few small districts and then their party will have a majority (even if it’s a slim one) in the remaining districts. So, even though the popular vote is 50/50, the state representatives may be 8 Republicans to 2 Democrats.
They are able to do this by analyzing the district votes very carefully. For example, in Texas, the vast majority of democrats (which may be up to 45% of the population) are centered in the higher population centers (Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and SE Texas (for a weird reason that’s not important now)). While the rest of the state is Republican.
So, the controlling party (the Republicans) makes a very few “Democrat” districts centered in those areas, then makes large swaths of the rest of the state. In a bad year, the Texas Democrats may only get 9 out of 32 seats (29%) even though the split in the state is closer to 40% Democrats.
This article helps explains the concept. During the 2012 US election, President Obama received 41% of the popular vote in the State of Texas. You would think that about 40% of the counties would have a majority democratic vote. But in reality, just over 10% of the counties were majority Democrat (26 out of 254).
Now, counties are ‘districts’ that are supposed to be equal in population, but you get the picture. If a party can create voting districts that divide the population in a few solid opponent districts and a whole bunch of most likely ‘ours’ districts, then they will (in general) get a majority of the representatives for that state in the US house (or the state house as well).