2012 Election Not a Mandate for More Gridlock

UsCapitol0308amWhen Barack Obama was re-elected to the presidency last November, House Speaker John Boehner observed, “the American people have spoken. They have re-elected President Obama. And they have again elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.” Republican House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that the voters, “have simply given [Obama] more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.” President Obama was re-elected with nearly 5 million more votes than Mitt Romney. Democrats deepened their grip on the Senate by capturing two additional seats. Democrats also gained 8 seats in the House, but were far from recapturing it.

At first glance, it seems that Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell were correct in their analysis that a majority of American voters chose to continue divided government in Washington rather than handing President Obama a Democratic majority in both chambers. However, more Americans cast their House vote for a Democrat than a Republican in 2012. In fact, Democrats won the House popular vote by over one million votes. How then did Republicans maintain such a strong majority in the House? The answer is simple: gerrymandering. To understand why the playing field was tilted so strongly in favor of Republicans, look back to the 2010-midterm elections when Republicans took control of the House. During that election, Republicans also won majorities in most state legislatures. Unfortunately for Democrats, 2010 happened to be a census year, where the Constitution mandates that Congressional boundaries be redrawn according to the latest census data. In most states, the majority party gets to align Congressional districts using whichever method it prefers, and that often is geared to the maximum political benefit. And so in 2010, Republican state legislatures carved up their Congressional districts in ways that gave Republicans a distinct advantage in 2012. Pennsylvania provides a stark example of the effect of the 2010 gerrymandering. A majority of Pennsylvania voters chose Obama in 2012; a majority also voted for Democratic candidates in House races. However, Pennsylvania ended up with a House delegation of thirteen Republicans and five Democrats. Ohio experienced a similar result with a majority of voters selecting Democratic candidates but with the election outcome delivering mostly Republicans.

Even though most voters wanted President Obama to have a Democratic majority in Congress, we are stuck with divided government until at least 2014. The Republican-tilted redistricting will remain in place in most states until the next census in 2020, so Democrats will have an uphill battle in every election until then to capture the House majority.

This does not bode well for President Obama’s agenda, which Americans decisively affirmed on November 6th. The Republican-controlled House stopped nearly all progress during the second half of Obama’s first term. The rise of the Tea Party helped elect one of the most conservative, uncompromising Republican caucuses in modern U.S. history. House Republicans never allowed a vote on Obama’s American Jobs Act, which I noted in a previous post would provide a significant boost to our economic recovery. However, House Republicans held over 30 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The House also participated in political brinksmanship over the debt ceiling and threatened to default on our debt for the first time in our nation’s history. This partisan brinksmanship caused a historical downgrade of the nation’s credit rating at a time when the economy was struggling to recover and tarnished the reputation of our country globally.

Even after the election, House Republicans remain obstinate. They opposed allowing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest two percent of Americans and blocked a measure that would permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans who make less than $250,000 per year. The failure of Speaker Boehner in late December to muster enough support from conservative House Republicans for his “Plan B” solution to the fiscal cliff — which was a much more conservative alternative to what the President had offered — demonstrates the level of ideological purity the extreme right demands. The Tea Party-backed House members do not believe in compromise and would not even support Boehner’s measure, which would have allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire only for earners who make over $1 million annually. In addition, after the devastating tragedy in Newtown, CT, most Republicans continue with an irrational “no new gun laws” policy even when it is clear that there are gaping loopholes in our nation’s laws, which continue to allow dangerous individuals to legally acquire firearms.

Despite the recently-passed “fiscal cliff” compromise bill, where Obama and the Democrats clearly had leverage with the expiring Bush tax cuts, I’m not sure how much hope there is for any additional compromise and progress in Obama’s second term, unless Democrats make substantial gains in 2014. One thing is clear though: Obama will have great difficulty reaching agreement with a party whose right-wing will not even compromise with the rest of the Republican Party. Although a majority of American voters did not vote for gridlock — a majority of voters supported President Obama and Democrats in both the House and Senate in the 2012 election — we are stuck with a Republican-controlled House who will probably continue impede Obama’s agenda and oppose meaningful compromise at all costs.


  1. How totally bizarre. We have an “obstinate” congress but not president? What a specious argument you make. Aaron, you may well be a good guy but you twist logic on its head. No matter how you slice the results, and you slice with a hack saw for sure, we voted for continued divided government. No subtantive change occurred at all. The president, sadly, will remain a demagogue as he knows no other way to ‘govern.’ Both he, and you, accuse the right of no being able to compromise all they while he cloaks his disdain for the free market by accusing the successful of not paying their “fare share” and will accept “additional revenue” only when it is accompanied with increased taxes and not real reform. There is no amount of taaxes that the wealthy can pay that will significantly reduce the national debt yet in the presient’s world they must pay more. The only long term solution to restore (and not remake as the president is wont to do) our economy is through real growth in the job market – and growth in the private sector not public sector since the later growth provides more drain on the the national economy than it rejuevenates. I am no tea party member or even fan but sadly they are about the only ones that stood on principle during this entire fiasco. If the house is “obstinate” I can only hope and pray that they remain so and that they do impede the president’s agenda that is certainly dooming this nation and its economy to sickly growth and standing in the world.

    1. Jary- thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It’s hard to fathom how anyone who believes in democracy would argue, as you have, that a party that lost the popular vote in the Presidential, Senate, and House races deserves a ruling majority, and thus the ability to obstruct the president at all costs. Now that is specious, twisted logic. Then you move on to the debt/deficit discussion by spewing a spurious and sensational argument about the President hating free markets. I’ll bet at some point over the past 4 years, you’ve compared him to Hitler or Stalin too, haven’t you? This kind of hyperbole doesn’t get us anywhere. The three biggest contributors to the deficit since 2000 have been the Bush tax cuts, the wars, and the lost revenue caused by the recession. The President advocates a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes new revenues and reduced spending. He still wants a grand bargain on deficit reduction. As I pointed out in another post, the federal deficit went from 10.1% of GDP in 2009 to 7% in 2012. Yes, the deficit as a % of GDP was REDUCED under Obama. Facts and data are inconvenient things. By throwing your lot in with the Tea Party caucus of the GOP, you’ve shown that you have fallen for their demagoguery. If Obama’s 2012 election victory wasn’t a wake up call to folks like you on the extreme right, you will have a rude awakening as the demographic shifts in the U.S. continue to relegate the far-right conservative movement to one increasingly comprised mostly of angry, old white men.

  2. The fact that it has taken it this long for our government to get as large as it is is a credit to our Founding Fathers. The separation of powers was intended to slow down government from enacting laws easily; and in this case, gridlock should be commended, because it means (for the most part) that government is not growing as fast as some would desire for it to.

    I agree however with the shadiness of re-districting to benefit their ability for relection. Those guilty of this unethical action don’t deserve to be in office, Republican or Democrat.

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