A reader from Texas writes:
Fair Vote cites 116 “crossover” representatives in 1992 representing 27% of the House. To the extent that figure represents some sort of idealistic “good ol’ days” for Congress, it is terribly misleading. The overwhelming reason that those districts existed was because the South was still sending conservative Democrats to Congress in huge numbers. And those conservative Democrats were getting elected in spite of the fact that the South overwhelmingly rejected national Democrat policies. The reality is…those conservative southern Democrats in 1992 were the residual “momentum” of the long term racism that existed throughout the South that had been vested in the Democratic Party. As Democrat politicians began to jump ship (…as a Texan, John Connally, Phil Gramm, Rick Perry come to mind…), Southerners began to elect Republicans in larger numbers, and House elections in the South slowly began to reflect consistency with national politics.
UPDATE: Rob Richie of FairVote replies:
Your Texas reader has a narrow view of both the changing patterns of “crossover” representatives and southern politics. More rural, blue dog Democrats were able to win in many states outside the South as well, while more liberal Republicans were able to win in regions like New England where today they are entirely shut out. Furthermore, most of those disparaged southern white Democrats practiced cross-racial politics — both in how they got elected and in how they served. Indeed, two decades ago, every single southern state legislative chamber was run by a coalition of white and black Democrats (and Latinos in Texas), as was the U.S. House. Today, the U.S. House and nearly every chamber is run by white Republicans without almost any racial minority support, which translates into a massive loss of political power of racial minorities — and there is no chance of change in most southern states for at least two decades. With restoration of “crossover” representation, a change to ranked choice voting in multi-seat districts in the region is the best chance to reduce both partisan and racial polarization in legislative elections.