Jonathan Chait writes about the rise of straight-ticket voting and how it has led to a “polarized stalemate”:
Republicans — because they are spread more efficiently, have gerrymandered state and national legislative districts, and vote more frequently in non-presidential elections — have a hammerlock on the House of Representatives and dominate state government. Democrats continue to advance their policy goals through executive action emanating from the White House. Democrats and Republicans alike have both strategized to break through the stalemate by strategically targeting constituencies across the trenches.
But every effort to break the stalemate in the age of polarization has failed.
He also notes an asymmetry in the party’s advantages:
From the Republican point of view, the current stalemate offers reasons for hope. The presidency is the sole locus of the Democratic advantage. Republicans can screw up some races with bad candidates and lose a seat or two; if Democrats screw up a presidential election, then they hand total control of the government to the GOP. What’s more, since voters tend to punish legislators on the basis of which party controls the presidency, Democrats have little chance to generate a backlash against Republican legislative control. The Republicans therefore have a better chance to break the stalemate and win total control of Washington before the Democrats do.
I don’t think either party has a “hammerlock” on anything. But I do think the Republicans have a significant structural advantage in congressional elections and Democrats a mild one in presidential elections. And thus it can simultaneously be true that the Democrats are more likely than the Republicans to have the White House and less likely to have unified control of the federal government in 2017.