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Washington’s congressional districts don’t produce many compromisers with few swing districts, many safe districts

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Dec. 28, 2012 at 11:07 am |
December 28, 2012 11:07 am

Nate Silver of the New York Times’ fivethirtyfive.com writes this week about the decline in truly contested Congressional districts and wonders if that has contributed to the polarization in Congress.

Silver shows how the number of swing districts has fallen in just 20 years from 103 to 35 (out of 435). Toss in districts considered lean Democrat and lean Republican – those that might elect members with a motivation to act bipartisan – and the number falls from 188 to 88 since 1992. The rest, he theorizes, are likely to appeal to the political extremes because the threat to their political futures does not come from the other party but from an intraparty primary challenge.

The post made me wonder how Washington’s newly drawn districts fit into the national picture. I looked at how the presidential vote broke down this past election and what categories our districts would fall into. Silver considers a swing district to be one that is within five percentage points of the national presidential vote (Obama won 51.4 percent of the national popular vote, Romney 48.6) The other categories are Lean Democrat and Lean Republican (between 5 and 10 percent more Democrat or Republican than the national vote), Strong Democrat and Strong Republican (between 10 and 20 percent more Democrat or Republican) and Landslide Democrat and Landslide Republican (more than 20 percent higher than national vote).

First, the numbers, with their competitiveness designation per Silver’s categories:

1st District – Obama, 54.1 percent; Romney, 43.2 percent (Lean Democrat)
2nd District – Obama, 59.2 percent; Romney, 38 percent (Strong Democrat)
3rd District – Obama, 47.9 percent; Romney, 49.5 percent (Swing)
4th District – Obama, 37.9 percent; Romney, 59.7 percent (Strong Republican)
5th District – Obama, 43.7 percent; Romney, 53.5 percent (Lean Republican)
6th District – Obama, 56.1 percent; Romney, 41.1 percent (Strong Democrat)
7th District – Obama, 79.2 percent; Romney, 18 percent (Landslide Democrat)
8th District – Obama, 49.7 percent; Romney, 48.1 percent (Swing)
9th District – Obama, 68.3 percent; Romney, 29.6 percent (Landslide Democrat)
10th District- Obama, 56.3 percent; Romney, 41.1 percent (Strong Democrat)

The surprise in these numbers, to me anyway, is that the newly drawn 8th District continued to favor the Democratic presidential candidate even though U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert won the seat for the GOP with nearly 60 percent of the vote. The second surprise is that the 3rd District, now considered to be a Republican district, was so close in the presidential race. U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, the Republican who easily won a second term against weak opposition, might not be as secure as was thought.

Finally, while it is not surprising that the 7th – home to U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott – remains a Democratic district the margin is still eye-popping – 80-20.

Based on Silver’s categories, Washington has two Swing districts (the 3rd and the 8th, both held by Republicans); one Lean Democrat district (the 1st); three Strong Democrat districts (the 2nd, 6th and 10th); two Landslide Democrat districts (the 7th and 9th); one Lean Republican district (the 5th); and one Strong Republican district (the 4th).

So just four of 10 might elect members who have a political motivation to appeal to the middle.

These numbers might be skewed by Romney’s non-existent campaign in Washington state. But Obama didn’t exactly break down the door here either, spending his time and money in swing states.

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