As the Supreme Court increasingly confronts cases challenging partisan gerrymandering, one underlying question appears to be: Is this getting worse? The answer is yes. There are some structural reasons for that. For years, party control of the House was stable. Now it’s regularly up for grabs. For at least 50 years, from 1950 to 2000, partisan control of the House was never perceived to be at stake during any redistricting cycle. The Democratic Party dominated the House; the Republican Party consigned itself to being the permanent minority; and no one in either party thought partisan control of the House could switch hands in any upcoming election.
From 1958 to 1994, the average number of seats the Republicans held was 170 — far from the 218 needed for a majority. In fact, going all the way back to the New Deal, Republicans controlled the House for, remarkably, only four years out of the 60 leading up to 1994.
All that changed in the stunning 1994 Newt Gingrich-led revolution, when the Republicans seized control of the House for the first time since the early 1950s. Since then, as Frances E. Lee documents in her superb new book, “Insecure Majorities,” we have been living through a dramatically transformed world of competitive party politics. We have experienced a more sustained era of political parity in the House — and in our politics, more generally — than at any time since the Civil War. Partisan control of the House has flipped back and forth between the parties, as it may again in 2018.