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The 50 Safest U.S. House Districts in the Nation (2002-2008)

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Democrats currently hold 43 of the 50 least competitive seats in the nation; John Lewis (GA-05), Kendrick Meek (FL-17), and Richard Neal (MA-02) have not faced a challenger since new district lines were drawn in 2002

This report is the third in a series on the level of competitiveness across the nation's 435 U.S. House districts. The first installment analyzed which states have yielded the most competitive U.S. House races while the second report examined the Top 50 most competitive U.S. House districts in the country since 2002.

While Republicans are ever hopeful that they will make substantial gains in the U.S. House this November, there are several dozen Democratic U.S. Representatives who will assuredly sleep easily through Election Day no matter how briskly the partisan winds might favor the GOP.

A Smart Politics analysis of 1,740 U.S. House general elections since 2002 finds nearly 90 percent of the 100 most lopsided congressional districts - those with an average victory margin of more than 50 points - are held by Democrats.

That a substantial number of U.S. House races end up in blow-out elections should come as no surprise. Since 2002, the average margin of victory across the more than 1,700 contests has been 39.2 points.

But a 39-point victory margin would be a close shave for some members of the U.S. House - including many Democrats.

John Lewis (pictured, GA-05), Kendrick Meek (FL-17), and Richard Neal (MA-02) represent the three districts with the largest average margins of victory since 2002 - with none of these candidates facing a single challenger during this four-election span. Representative Neal has not faced a GOP opponent since 1996.

Rounding out the Top 10 least competitive U.S. House districts since 2002 are:

· #4: NY-06. Held by Democrat Gregory Meeks. District average margin of victory: 98.3 points.
· #5: MA-08. Held by Democrat Michael Capuano. District average MoV: 95.0 points.
· #6: AL-06. Held by Republican Spencer Bachus. District average MoV: 94.3 points.
· #7: PA-14. Held by Democrat Michael Doyle. District average MoV: 90.7 points.
· #8: NJ-10. Held by Democrat Donald Payne. District average MoV: 90.5 points.
· #9: NY-16. Held by Democrat Jose Serrano. District average MoV: 89.6 points.
· #10: MA-09. Held by Democrat Stephen Lynch. District average MoV: 88.7 points.

Democrats hold 42 of the Top 50 safest districts in the country, with a 43rd (Democrat Robert Wexler's FL-19 seat) currently vacant.

Aside from Spencer Bachus (#6, AL-06), the only other Republicans on the list are Jerry Moran (#30, KS-01), Kevin McCarthy (#31, CA-22), Robert Goodlatte (#37, VA-06), Hal Rogers (#43, KY-05), Ander Crenshaw (#44, FL-04), and Tom Petri (#50, WI-06).

Over half of the members of Congress representing the least competitive districts in the nation are members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses.

Twenty-two members of the CBC make the Top 50 safest seats list: Democrats John Lewis (#1, GA-05), Kendrick Meek (#2, FL-17), Gregory Meeks (#4, NY-06), Donald Payne (#8, NJ-10), Ed Towns (#11, NY-10), Artur Davis (#13, AL-07), Yvette Clarke (#14, NY-11), Robert Scott (#16, VA-03), Charlie Rangle (#17, NY-15), Dana Watson (#20, CA-33), Alcee Hastings (#21, FL-23), Corrine Brown (#22, FL-03), John Conyers (#23, MI-14), Carolyn Kilpatrick (#25, MI-13), Jesse Jackson Jr. (#28, IL-02), Chaka Fattah (#29, PA-02), Barbara Lee (#32, CA-09), Marcia Fudge (#33, OH-11), Danny Davis (#36, IL-07), Bobby Rush (#42, IL-01), Maxine Waters (#45, CA-35), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (#47, TX-30).

Six members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also represent particularly safe districts: Democrats Jose Serrano (#9, NY-16), Xavier Becerra (#18, CA-31), Nydia Velazquez (#19, NY-12), Luis Gutierrez (#41, IL-04), and Silvestre Reyes (#46, TX-16).

While the three most populous states in the nation - California, Texas, and New York - only produced a total of 3 of the Top 50 most competitive congressional districts in the nation, they account for 17 of the 50 least competitive districts: CA-08, CA-09, CA-22, CA-31, CA-32, CA-33, CA-35, NY-05, NY-06, NY-10, NY-11, NY-12, NY-15, NY-16, TX-16, TX-29, TX-30.

Between those three states, plus Florida (FL-03, FL-04, FL-17, FL-19, FL-20, FL-23), Massachusetts (MA-02, MA-03, MA-04, MA-07, MA-08, MA-09), and Illinois (IL-01, IL-02, IL-04, IL-07), 33 of the 50 least competitive districts in the nation come from just six states.

In total, 104 districts have been decided by an average victory margin of greater than 50 points across the last four election cycles, or nearly 1 in 4 House races (23.9 percent).

Democrats control the vast majority of these blow-out districts - winning 92 of these 104 seats in 2008.

Current Party Control of U.S. House Districts by Average Margin of Victory, 2002-2008

Margin of Victory
Dem
GOP
Total
Percent
90-100 points
7
1
8
1.8
80-89 points
13
0
13
3.0
70-79 points*
14
3
17
3.9
60-69 points
26
8
34
7.8
50-59 points
19
13
32
7.4
40-49 points*
47
34
81
18.6
30-39 points
47
40
87
20.0
20-29 points
38
56
94
21.6
10-19 points*
40
20
60
13.8
0-9 points
6
3
9
2.1
* Includes vacant seats most recently held by Democrats (FL-19, PA-12, NY-29). General elections only. Data compiled from Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives by Smart Politics.

Democrats have also done a much better job since 2004 of simply fielding candidates across the nation's 435 congressional districts.

In 2002 and 2004 combined, Democrats failed to field candidates in 80 races, or 9.2 percent of all U.S. House contests, compared to 65 races without a Republican on the ballot (7.5 percent).

In 2006 and 2008 combined, however, Democrats only left 25 districts fallow (2.9 percent) compared to more than three times as many for the Republicans (87 districts, 10.0 percent):

· In 2002, a total of 80 U.S. House districts did not have either a Republican or a Democrat on the general election ballot (18.3 percent), including 44 Democrats and 36 Republicans.
· In 2004, that number decreased to 14.9 percent, with voters in 65 congressional districts not having the choice of a Democratic (36 districts) or a Republican (29 districts) candidate.
· In 2006, when Democrats first began to smell blood in the water, the party began to field candidates across nearly all 435 districts. In that year, only 7.6 percent of congressional districts (56) did not have both major parties on the ballot - 11 districts without a Democrat and 45 without a Republican.
· In 2008, 56 districts once again only had one major party running for office, this time 14 without Democrats and 42 without Republicans.

Massachusetts has had the largest percentage of U.S. seats with only one major party on the ballot since 2002 (60.0 percent, or 24 of 40 races), followed by Arkansas (43.8 percent), Alabama (35.7 pecent), Virginia (31.8 percent), and Florida (30.0 percent).

Despite many of these gaudy victory margins, some members of Congress are fearing the backlash against incumbents this November - and not just Democrats.

For example, 15-term Republican David Drier (CA-26) half-jokingly said on the Dennis Prager radio show on Tuesday that he doesn't like to reveal how long he's been in the U.S. House (29+ years) because of the anger voters are feeling today towards incumbents in Washington D.C..

Still, Representatives in the vast majority of these U.S. House districts have nothing to fear.

While the average length of service across the entire U.S. House is 11.2 years and the average length of service for those members of Congress serving the Top 50 most competitive districts in the country is just 4.2 years, those representing the 50 least competitive districts have been in the House for an average of 17.1 years.

And whereas 34 members of the Top 50 most competitive districts were elected during the last two election cycles, just 4 out of the 50 least competitive districts were elected into office since 2006: Democrat Yvette Clark (#14, NY-11), Republican Kevin McCarthy (#31, CA-22), Democrat Marcia Fudge (#33, OH-11), and Democrat Judy Chu (#40, CA-32).

The 50 Least Competitive U.S. House Districts from 2002-2008 (by average margin of victory)

Rank
District
Held by
Years
'02
'04
'06
'08
Ave
1
GA-05
Lewis (D)
23.2
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
2
FL-17
Meek (D)
7.2
99.8
99.2
100.0
100.0
99.8
3
MA-02
Neal (D)
21.2
99.1
98.7
98.7
100.0
99.1
4
NY-06
Meeks (D)
12.1
93.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
98.3
5
MA-08
Capuano (D)
11.2
99.5
98.7
81.7
100.0
95.0
6
AL-06
Bachus (R)
17.2
79.9
98.8
98.3
100.0
94.3
7
PA-14
Doyle (D)
15.2
100.0
100.0
80.2
82.6
90.7
8
NJ-10
Payne (D)
21.2
69.0
95.1
100.0
98.0
90.5
9
NY-16
Serrano (D)
20.0
84.2
90.4
90.6
93.2
89.6
10
MA-09
Lynch (D)
8.4
99.5
99.0
56.4
100.0
88.7
11
NY-10
Towns (D)
27.2
95.6
84.0
86.2
87.4
88.3
12
MA-03
McGovern (D)
13.2
98.8
41.1
98.8
100.0
84.7
13
AL-07
Davis (D)
7.2
85.2
50.1
99.0
100.0
83.6
14
NY-11
Clarke (D)
3.2
74.1
90.9
82.4
85.9
83.3
15
PA-01
Brady (D)
11.9
73.9
72.9
100.0
81.6
82.1
16
VA-03
Scott (D)
17.2
96.1
38.8
96.1
97.0
82.0
17
NY-15
Rangel (D)
39.2
77.0
84.1
88.0
78.3
81.9
18
CA-31
Becerra (D)
17.2
62.4
60.6
100.0
100.0
80.8
19
NY-12
Velazquez (D)
17.2
91.6
72.6
79.4
78.4
80.5
20
CA-33
Watson (D)
8.8
68.5
77.2
100.0
74.8
80.1
21
FL-23
Hastings (D)
17.2
55.5
100.0
100.0
64.3
80.0
22
FL-03
Brown (D)
17.2
18.6
98.4
100.0
100.0
79.3
23
MI-14
Conyers (D)
45.2
68.0
70.1
70.6
92.4
75.3
24
MA-07
Markey (D)
33.4
97.7
51.7
98.3
51.4
74.8
25
MI-13
Kilpatrick (D)
13.2
83.2
59.7
100.0
55.0
74.5
26
MA-04
Frank (D)
29.2
99.0
55.6
98.5
42.7
74.0
27
FL-20
Wasserman Schultz (D)
5.2
100.0
40.4
100.0
54.9
73.8
28
IL-02
Jackson (D)
14.3
64.6
77.0
73.0
78.6
73.3
29
PA-02
Fattah (D)
15.2
75.6
76.0
79.4
61.8
73.2
30
KS-01
Moran (R)
13.2
82.2
81.5
59.5
68.9
73.0
31
CA-22
McCarthy (R)
3.2
49.7
100.0
41.6
100.0
72.8
32
CA-09
Lee (D)
11.9
66.4
72.3
75.7
76.4
72.7
33
OH-11
Fudge (D)
1.4
52.6
100.0
66.8
70.2
72.4
34
NY-05
Ackerman (D)
27.0
100.0
43.4
100.0
42.9
71.6
35
FL-19
(Vacant)
 
44.4
100.0
100.0
39.0
70.9
36
IL-07
Davis (D)
13.2
67.9
72.2
73.4
69.8
70.8
37
VA-06
Goodlatte (R)
17.2
97.1
96.7
62.8
25.0
70.4
38
NJ-01
Andrews (D)
19.4
85.4
50.4
100.0
45.5
70.3
39
TX-29
Green (D)
17.2
90.4
88.2
49.1
50.7
69.6
40
CA-32
Chu (D)
0.7
41.3
70.2
66.0
100.0
69.4
41
IL-04
Gutierrez (D)
17.2
64.6
71.3
71.6
69.1
69.2
42
IL-01
Rush (D)
17.2
65.0
69.8
68.2
71.4
68.6
43
KY-05
Rogers (R)
29.2
56.6
100.0
47.6
68.2
68.1
44
FL-04
Crenshaw (R)
9.2
99.4
99.0
39.4
30.6
67.1
45
CA-35
Waters (D)
19.2
58.3
65.5
75.3
68.6
66.9
46
TX-16
Reyes (D)
13.2
100.0
36.4
57.4
71.8
66.4
47
TX-30
Johnson (D)
17.2
50.1
86.0
62.6
66.6
66.3
48
CA-08
Pelosi (D)
22.8
67.0
71.5
69.6
55.7
66.0
49
WV-01
Mollohan (D)
27.2
99.4
35.6
28.7
100.0
65.9
50
WI-06
Petri (R)
30.9
99.2
36.9
98.9
27.6
65.7
General elections only. 'Years' reflects the total number of years served in the U.S. House, whether consecutively or otherwise, across all districts the member of Congress has served. Data compiled from Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives by Smart Politics.

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1 Comment


  • Let's say you are the person in charge of drawing up congressional (House) districts. Your goal is to maximize the number of Republican held seats. One way to do this is to draw up as many districts as you can where the voters are split 55% Republican to 45% Democrat, then take all the remaining Democratic voters and pack them into overwhelmingly Democratic districts. You end up with Republicans being elected by 10% margins, and Democrats being elected by > 30% margins. Every Republican vote helps get a Republican elected, while most of the Democratic votes are wasted.

    How does this relate to the revelation that Democrats hold almost all of the safest House Districts? You might get some insight into what extent this is caused by gerrymandering if you look at each party's share of the vote in the state as a whole vs. the proportion of House members from each party. If the proportions are significantly different, that might be a sign of gerrymandering. You could also look at whether the district boundaries in the state were drawn a Republican, Democratic or non-partisan controlled process. Finally, an examination of the relative geometric compactness of the safest vs. non-safe districts might also be revealing.

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    Gender Equality in the US House: A State-by State Quarter-Century Report Card (1989-2014)

    A study of 5,325 congressional elections finds the number of female U.S. Representatives has more than tripled over the last 25 years, but the rate at which women are elected to the chamber still varies greatly between the states.

    Political Crumbs

    Small Club in St. Paul

    Mark Dayton is one of just three Minnesotans ever elected to three different statewide offices. Dayton, of course, had previously served as State Auditor (1991-1995) and U.S. Senator (2001-2007) before winning the governorship in 2010. At that time, he joined Republicans Edward Thye and J.A.A. Burnquist on this very short list. Burnquist was elected lieutenant governor in 1914 but then became governor after the death of Democrat Winfield Hammond in 1915. He then won the gubernatorial elections of 1916 and 1918 and eight terms as attorney general two decades later (1939-1955). Thye was similarly first elected lieutenant governor of the Gopher State and became governor after the resignation of fellow GOPer Harold Stasson in 1943. Thye won one additional full term as governor in 1944 and then two terms to the U.S. Senate (1947-1959). Twenty Minnesotans have been elected to two different statewide offices.


    Respect Your Elders?

    With retirement announcements this year by veteran U.S. Representatives such as 30-term Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, 20-term Democrat George Miller of California, and 18-term Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it is no surprise that retirees from the 113th Congress are one of the most experienced cohorts in recent decades. Overall, these 24 exiting members of the House have served an average of 11.0 terms - the second longest tenure among retirees across the last 18 cycles since 1980. Only the U.S. Representatives retiring in 2006 had more experience, averaging 11.9 terms. (In that cycle, 10 of the 11 retiring members served at least 10 terms, with GOPer Bill Jenkins of Tennessee the lone exception at just five). Even without the aforementioned Dingell, the average length of service in the chamber of the remaining 23 retirees in 2014 is 10.2 terms - which would still be the third highest since 1980 behind the 2006 and 2012 (10.5 terms) cycles.


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