A recent poll by the New York Times shows widespread dissatisfaction with Congress by the American people. Only 25% of people surveyed approved of the way Congress is handling their job and only a slightly higher percentage thought their congressional representative should keep their job. However, despite these dismal job approval numbers of Congress and those of President Bush and the Republican Party in general, most analysts do not predict that the Democrats will take back either branch of Congress in the upcoming elections. For example, according to the Cook Political Report there are only about 40 seats that are somewhat competitive, and of those there are 19 in the "tossup" status. Since the Democrats need a net pickup of 15 to take back the House, which would mean they would have to win 15 of those 19, while still holding all their current seats, a pretty difficult task. This lack of competitiveness is due to multiple factors such as the power of incumbency and redistricting, as well as voter turnout (which is extremely low in non-Presidential elections).
Competitive elections are vital to a healthy democracy, and creating competitive congressional districts is an important part of ensuring that elected officials remain responsive to the voters. Taking the power of redistricting out of the hands of state legislatures--who are concerned not with creating competitive and meaningful elections, but rather with the creation of safe districts--is the first step to improving responsiveness in the U.S. Congress. A much more fair and reasonable alternative is to create independent redistricting commissions, a process that is more likely to decrease political gerrymandering by politicians.
Some other possible solutions to low turnover in Congress are:
Alternative Voting Methods
Increasing the Size of Congress
strengthening the VRA
Some people will respond to what I have written in this post by saying that the Democrats have just lost touch with the American people and are just a disfunctional party. While there may be some truth to this, I don't believe it explains what is happening overall, as most Americans now have a more favorable view of the Democrats than the Republicans. I do wonder, however if this shows signs of hope for a third party hoping to break through the two-party deadlock on American politics or whether American democracy is breaking (or both). Either way, it is troubling to me when few people bother to vote in elections and that when they do vote they are unable to replace the country's legislature with representatives that respond to their needs. Any questions or comments are welcome.