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Is the DFL 'Overrepresented' at the State Capitol?

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As DFL legislators tore into Governor Tim Pawlenty's budget plan in committee hearings on Tuesday, the DFL caucus looked very much like a party with supermajority (Senate) or near supermajority (House) status. The DFL's icy reaction to the Governor's plan for corporate tax cuts and state bond sales did not give the impression of a party ready to negotiate with the Republican governor or meet him halfway; rather, the rhetoric sounded more like a call to arms.

With 46 Senators and 87 Representatives, the DFL has every right to be gutsy in its approach in dealing with the Governor. However, the truth of the matter is that the DFL, despite its gaudy numbers at the Capitol, has not really been emboldened with a mandate from the people of Minnesota. Here's why:

Even though the DFL controls 65 percent of the seats in the House, only 55 percent of Minnesotans voted for DFL House candidates in the 2008 election. In essence, the 2008 Minnesota electorate as a whole more accurately reflects a 74-60 split in the House, not the 87-47 split representing the state and doing battle with its governor in St. Paul. This essentially translates into an 'overrepresentation' of 13 DFL House seats, owing in part to district lines that have had the net effect of benefiting the DFL in recent years, as established below.

The House has not seen such an 'imbalance' in representation, favorable to either party, as what the DFL currently enjoys, in a generation - dating back to 1992. Interestingly, this representational imbalance has occurred in the DFL's favor in 8 of the past 10 election cycles.

Minnesota Vote for DFL House Candidates vs. DFL House Seats Won, 1990-2008

Year
% DFL Vote
% DFL Seats
Difference
2008
54.9
64.9
+10.0
2006
54.9
63.4
+8.5
2004
51.4
49.3
-2.1
2002
47.8
38.8
-9.0
2000
46.5
48.5
+2.0
1998
46.4
47.0
+0.6
1996
49.2
52.2
+3.0
1994
46.7
53.0
+6.3
1992
54.1
64.9
+10.8
1990
52.8
59.7
+6.9

The most glaring example in recent years of the Republican Party getting snubbed in the electoral allocation of House seats occurred in 1996, when the DFL won 70 contests to the GOP's 64, even though more Minnesotans voted for Republicans in House races (49.3 percent) than for DFL candidates (49.2 percent).

Another way to look at the power imbalance in the 2008 House of Representatives is through the prism of the presidential election vote. Minnesotans voted for Barack Obama in approximately the same amount (54.1 percent) as they did for DFL House candidates (54.9 percent). This 10.8-point gap in the percentage of seats controlled by the DFL in the House (64.9) and the statewide vote for Obama is more than three times that of any of the 11 other states in the Midwest.

Vote for Obama and Democratic State House Seats Differential in Midwestern States

State
% Obama Vote
% Democratic House Seats
Difference
National Rank
Minnesota
54.1
64.9
10.8
12
Michigan
57.4
60.9
3.5
24
Ohio
51.4
53.5
2.1
30
Iowa
53.9
56.0
2.1
31
Indiana
49.9
52.0
2.1
32
Illinois
61.9
59.3
-2.6
35
Kansas
41.6
38.4
-3.2
36
Wisconsin
56.2
52.5
-3.7
40
Missouri
49.3
45.4
-3.9
41
North Dakota
44.5
38.3
-6.2
45
Nebraska*
41.6
34.7
-6.9
46
South Dakota
44.7
34.3
-10.4
49
Note: Nebraska has a unicameral legislature. Its members are elected as nonpartisans, though its current 49 members have a party affiliation breakdown of 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats.

The disproportional representation in the Gopher State is even more pronounced in the state senate, where the DFL controls 68.7 percent of the seats (46 of 67, picking up one in a special election last November), even though its candidates received only 55.3 percent of the vote in 2006.

(Note: Smart Politics uses the terms 'disproportional representation' and 'imbalance in representation' descriptively, rather than pejoratively; this blog is well aware of district-by-district winner-take-all election law system governing the state of Minnesota and the statistical oddities that can result from such a system when examining cumulative statewide data).

Previous post: Minnesota's 2010 Budget Deficit Among Top 10 Largest In Nation
Next post: No Excuses? Minnesota's Unemployment Rate Less Tied to National Economy Than That of Wisconsin and Iowa

2 Comments


  • Since we don't elect legislators on a state-wide basis this is a silly point, presumably the consequence of being indoors too long with nothing better to do. Minority legislative parties often make this rationalization---that the voters really like them more than election results show. Today's problem for Republicans are similar to what the DFL faced after the 2002 election--their supporters while comparatively numerous, are concentrated in a few areas, instead of state wide. Until that condition is remedied they will continue to be a minority party.

  • > Today's problem for Republicans are similar to what the DFL
    > faced after the 2002 election--their supporters while
    > comparatively numerous, are concentrated in a few areas,
    > instead of state wide. Until that condition is remedied they will
    > continue to be a minority party.

    If you are speaking geographically, the 2008 US Senate race shows the opposite is true. Norm Coleman carried 63 of the state's 87 counties, and 38 of those counties by double-digit margins. Franken carried only 24 counties, and just 9 of them by double-digit margins. The DFL constituency, geographically, is still basically concentrated in three counties - St. Louis, Ramsey, and Hennepin.

    As for the fact that legislators are not elected on a state-wide basis, and the limitations of this analysis, this was addressed in the parenthetical in the last paragraph of the blog. Additionally, your comment cannot explain away the 1996 scenario which I highlighted in the blog - GOPers getting more House votes than the DFL and winning 6 fewer seats.

  • Leave a comment


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