Analysis by Ballotpedia of the upcoming 2014 midterms reveals that many of the congressional races deemed “competitive” by the news media are incorrectly labeled, leading to increased campaign costs and misperception by the public.

In its coverage Ballotpedia highlights a different trend, the overlooked narrative of incumbency and gerrymandering.

According to Ballotpedia, in 2012 34% of congressional races were incorrectly labeled as competitive by the Cook Political Report. Of the 85 Cook classified as competitive, 30 races had a margin of victory of less than 5 percent in 2012; only three of the ten most expensive 2012 House races were decided by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less.

Ballotpedia has a name for those districts that are anything but competitive, but classified as so: “Moneymakers.” Ballotpedia:

An inflated sense of competitiveness is great for the news cycle. When pundits, political organizations, or analysts classify a district as competitive, other outlets add the classification to their own coverage of the race.

Unfortunately, this increased coverage leads to increased campaign spending, regardless of whether the race is actually competitive. That is exactly what happened in Maryland’s 6th district during the 2012 election season. Many pundits and political organizations such as the National Republican Congressional Committee,  the Democratic Congressional Committee and the Cook Political Report had classified the district as competitive throughout the election cycle. A total of $5.7 million was spent by the candidates in this district.

While the average cost of a general election for House congressional seat in 2012 was $2.1 million, an average “Moneymaker” election cost $3.495 million. Again, these are elections classified by others as “competitive” but according to Ballotpedia’s criteria, incorrectly so.

The total difference between moneymaker district election costs and the average district election costs was $39.6 million.

Sarah Rosier of Ballotpedia writes:

When the voting booth closes and the election results are tallied, we see the real trend that strengthens with every new election: incumbency is king and gerrymandering has left only a few handfuls of districts truly competitive.

View Ballotpedia’s 2014 predictions for competitive districts and criteria here.


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