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Republicans positioned to retain House

Nicole Michels | Friday, November 2, 2012

Voters in 81 districts across the country will choose their voices in the U.S. House of Representatives on Election Day. Though the number of contested seats allows the Democrats ample opportunity to infringe upon the Republicans’ current control of the House at 242 to 193, political science professor Ricardo Ramirez said he does not believe this round of elections will alter the balance of power in the House significantly.

“They’re just going to solidify their current strength as Republicans,” Ramirez said. “There are states where the demographics have shifted so that there are more competitive seats, but it’s not because those drawing the districts have purposely tried to give people options – sometimes there’s enough movement over ten years so that it does create opportunities.”

The 2012 election is the first to incorporate the results of the 2010 census into the districting scheme, shifting the allocation of seats. Ramirez said this redistricting will only have a limited effect.

“Because redistricting happened, those states that have the state legislators drawing the districts have a lot of Republicans in control of a lot of the state legislatures and governors they redistricted to benefit Republicans at the Congressional level,” Ramirez said. “But when they gain those seats I don’t think they’ll pick up any more.”

Population shifts manifest in the new census data have shifted the composition of the electorate, Ramirez said.

“The three biggest growth segments were young voters as they have started to vote more and two specific segments of the population – Asian Americans and Latinos,” Ramirez said.

These groups will only become more influential as they are incorporated into the American political system, Ramirez said.

“Once [Latinos and Asian Americans] reach five or six percent, I think that’s when some of the Congressional races and statehouses will begin showing fruits for whatever party outreaches to them, because neither party does a fantastic job [at reaching out to them] now,” Ramirez said. “If there’s more outreach to them not only as young communities but also as immigrant-based communities I think they will have a big say.”

Changes in the number of a state’s seats create challenges for its politicians, Ramirez said.

“It’s different when a state has gained a seat or lost a seat,” Ramirez said. “States have lost seats and all of a sudden you’ll have two former incumbents running against each other or two from the same party, changes in party choice or party ID. When you have gained an additional seat those changes are easier to deal with … most of those issues are very different and dealt with at the primary level.”

The most important issues in any race to be decided on Nov. 6 is the economy, but the issues of abortion and contraception come into play strongly in House races as well, Ramirez said.

“Obviously it varies across regions or states – if you’re talking at the presidential level, those issues are not going to be the same as Congressional races,” Ramirez said.

[The Affordable Health Care Act] has stirred passions in many House races – particularly in the state of Indiana – because the conservative elements have chosen to run with the argument that won them success in the 2010 elections.

“I think among Republicans running at least locally for the U.S. House and the Senate [are] very much against Obamacare – I think it resonates with their base,” Ramirez said. “I think with the Democrats there are less concrete issues they’re focusing on, at least locally.”

Indiana voting attitudes seem to be representative of the Midwest pattern in general, Ramirez said.

“In general, Republicans have control but then you have pockets of Democrats,” Ramirez said. “In general in the state because it is rural, that’s why the governors have been Republican.”

The unified Indiana viewpoint intrigues Ramirez, he said.

“It’s been interesting since I got here to Indiana,” Ramirez said. “The topic of the way Hoosiers are, the state and locality identity aside, all are still very much the Hoosier way.”

All in all, this election likely will not be shocking, Ramirez said.

“Democrats might regain a few of the seats that they lost that they shouldn’t have lost but I don’t think it’s going to switch Democrat,” Ramirez said. “I don’t think it’s going to switch to Democrat, the only thing that’s going to allow them to do that eventually will be population shifts for the next census or towards the end of the decade.”