The 2014 election accelerated a trend of straight-ticket voting, the phenomenon of people voting for the same party for Congress as they did for president. With the ideological distance between Democrats and Republicans growing bigger than ever, the result is a Congress sharply divided along party lines, with a shrinking bloc of centrists more open to compromise.
“You have consistently liberal Democrats, consistently conservative Republicans and very few moderates,” said Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
There’s also more partisan alignment in voting for the House of Representatives and for president.
The 2014 election produced just 31 districts that voted for one party’s House nominee after backing the other party’s presidential nominee in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Politics. That’s just 7 percent of the 435 districts, and only a slight increase from the 26 ticket-splitting districts after the 2012 election. The number ticked up a bit because the Republican wave ushered in new members from districts that were mildly pro-Obama in 2012, when the president was more popular. But it’s still historically low, far fewer than the 83 split districts produced by the 2008 election or the more than 100 split districts that were common from the 1950s to the 1990s, according to Vital Statistics on Congress.
The South, now a Republican stronghold, was a Democratic bastion for a century after the Civil War. Even by the 1960s and 1970s, when Republican presidential candidates carried Southern states, the region still split their tickets by staying loyal to Democratic candidates for Congress. In the 1980s and 1990s, the South became more comfortable voting Republican for Congress. Conservative and moderate Democrats retired or were beaten, succeeded by Republicans.
“That’s a big part of the story, and why the geographic polarization that we see right now is as rigid as it is. The South has sort of sorted out now,” said Frances Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland at College Park.