In theory, the House would be much better off avoiding this rural bias since it distributes political power based on population, with each seat representing approximately 750,000 Americans. But the rise of extreme partisan gerrymandering has skewed the composition of the House in favor of rural communities. While gerrymandering is as old as the republic itself, Republicans used their 2010 midterm election victories to paint themselves nearly unbeatable cards in state legislative races like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. From there, they also won highly favorable congressional seats in 2010 and 2020.
A common tactic of gerrymandering is to “break up” and “cluster” urban voters in certain districts. By dividing a large city into several districts comprising a large number of rural voters, a sufficiently skilful state legislature can empty that city of effective political representation at the national level. If the raw numbers just don’t make that possible, then they can “pack” urban voters into a single district, creating an extremely favorable seat for one party and several seats that favor the other party around it. With Democrats and Republicans increasingly sorting themselves out in big cities and small towns, respectively, that job is easier than ever.
A disturbing side effect of gerrymandering is that it effectively eliminates competitive elections. By an estimation, only about 30 to 35 seats in the House will be up for grabs by either party over the next few terms. The rest, for demographic reasons, are either safe Republican seats or safe Democratic seats. In these races, the primary election is effectively the deciding election to determine who represents that district in Congress. And primary races tend to favor more partisan and ideological candidates. If it seems like Congress has gotten much weirder and more extreme over the past few decades, that’s because it has — and in large part because fewer people have a greater influence on the final outcome of each House race.