If politics is a bottom line business, then the Republican Party of Minnesota can be rightfully pleased to have won three U.S. House seats last month. Several pundits, such as the Rothenberg Political Report, projected the DFL to pick up both Michele Bachmann’s seat in the 6th CD as well as the open 3rd District. Republicans won a plurality in each contest, along with a comfortable victory in John Kline’s 2nd CD.

But that’s where the good news ends for the GOP.

A Smart Politics study of 318 general election U.S. House races conducted over the past 74 years finds that in 2008 Republicans endured the lowest percentage of ballots cast for its U.S. House candidates since the Great Depression (1934). The 2008 GOP performance was also the worst turned in by either of the state’s primary political parties since the DFL merger in 1944.

In 2008, just 38.1 percent of Minnesotans cast their ballots for Republicans in U.S. House contests, compared to 57.5 percent for the DFL and 4.3 percent for third party candidates. This marks the 6th largest vote percentage for the DFL in its history (behind 1986, 1990, 1988, 1976, and 1974 respectively). In total, 1,612,480 ballots were cast for the DFL, compared to 1,069,015 for Republicans, and 121,119 for third party or write-in candidates.

Votes for Republican U.S. House candidates had not dipped below the 40 percent mark since the second time FDR was elected president back in 1936. In that year, 38.5 percent of Gopher State residents voted for Republicans, with 42.4 percent for Farmer-Laborites, 17.4 percent for Democrats, and 1.6 percent for other political parties. Even fighting in tough three-way battles in 1936, House Republican candidates fared slightly better in that year than in 2008 – by about a half a percent. In 1934 32.5 percent of voters cast their ballots for Republicans in U.S. House contests.

In 2008, Republicans also received a lower percentage of the vote than in any year in DFL history. Even in its inaugural election of 1944, the DFL outperformed the GOP of 2008 by 2.7 points (at 40.8 percent). In fact, DFL U.S. House hopefuls have never received less than 40 percent of the vote en masse in a general election.

The implications for this dismal Republican performance are enormous as the state begins to contemplate new districts after the 2010 U.S. Census – especially considering the fact that Minnesota is projected to lose one Congressional seat to apportionment, according to Tom Gillaspy, State Demographer of the Minnesota Department of Administration.

More than 543,000 votes were cast for DFL U.S. House candidates than for Republicans in 2008: if that trend continues it is difficult to imagine how any new redistricting map plays out favorably for the GOP – especially with the legislature currently comfortably under DFL control (though any plan under the current system would need the approval of the Governor, unless thrown to the courts).

However, despite dismal support in 2008 for Republican U.S. House candidates overall, speculation by pundits that the DFL would win 7 seats in Minnesota was a gross overestimate to say the least: the DFL has never won 7 U.S. House seats in any election year in Gopher State history. In fact, even though they won a larger percentage of the vote than in 2008, the DFL also won only 5 seats in 1974, 1976, 1986, and 1988 (the DFL won 6 seats from 1990 through 1998).

Minnesota U.S. House Votes Received By Party, 1934-2008

Year
DFL
GOP
Other
2008
57.5
38.1
4.3
2006
52.9
42.4
4.7
2004
51.4
45.4
3.2
2002
49.9
46.8
3.4
2000
52.2
42.0
5.8
1998
53.5
42.3
4.2
1996
55.1
41.8
3.1
1994
50.6
48.4
1.0
1992
51.8
40.9
7.3
1990
58.5
41.4
0.1
1988
58.3
41.1
0.5
1986
59.7
40.0
0.3
1984
53.7
45.7
0.6
1982
54.6
44.4
0.9
1980
47.6
51.8
0.6
1978
51.2
46.6
2.3
1976
58.0
40.6
1.4
1974
57.9
40.4
1.8
1972
53.1
45.0
1.9
1970
53.1
46.7
0.2
1968
47.7
52.2
0.1
1966
48.4
51.6
0.0
1964
54.4
45.6
0.1
1962
49.7
50.2
0.0
1960
50.2
49.5
0.4
1958
53.3
46.7
0.0
1956
51.3
48.7
0.0
1954
53.0
47.0
0.0
1952
46.0
54.0
0.0
1950
46.5
52.9
0.5
1948
49.8
50.2
0.0
1946
40.9
58.8
0.3
1944
40.8
58.9
0.3
1942*
40.5
59.4
0.1
1940*
46.5
53.1
0.4
1938*
49.3
50.2
0.4
1936*
59.8
38.5
1.6
1934*
63.6
32.5
4.0

* Denotes cumulative total from Democratic and Farmer-Labor candidates.