Stand up for the facts!
Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.
I would like to contribute
Nothing inflated in Arnold Schwarzenegger's claim on gerrymandering
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be back to host The New Celebrity Apprentice.
He also recently squashed rumors he might run for U.S. Senate.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the bodybuilder-turned-movie-star-turned-politician plans to fade quietly into the Hollywood sunset.
Schwarzenegger’s next adventure is tackling what he calls America’s rigged political redistricting system.
"Gerrymandering has created an absurd reality where politicians now pick their voters instead of the voters picking their politicians," Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said in a recent video.
He cites reforms in California as a model for the nation: In 2008, voters in the state approved a bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission, which has been credited for drawing district boundaries in a way that’s made some state and congressional races more competitive.
Schwarzenegger made a claim on Twitter and Facebook about just how lopsided congressional races have become nationwide:
"The average margin of victory in the House of Representatives was 37%," he said on Twitter on Feb. 23, 2017, referring to the average percentage point victory for both Democrats and Republicans in the 2016 election. "There are dictators who win by less."
Given Schwarzenegger’s new focus, we decided to see whether his claim about margin of victory in House races is correct -- or all pumped up. Our fact check focused on his 37 percent figure.
We asked Schwarzenegger’s spokesman for evidence. He cited a breakdown of the 2016 election on the website ballotpedia.org. It’s an independent, online encyclopedia of American politics and elections.
And, indeed, it lists the average margin of victory for members of the House at 37.1 percent. It notes that’s up from the 35.8 percent margin in 2014.
We checked with one more knowledgeable source: Jack Pitney, a longtime professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College and former director of the Republican National Committee’s Research Department.
Pitney crunched last year’s election numbers for us and found a 39 percent margin of victory for House members. He said he wasn’t sure what accounted for the slight difference in his findings.
"But the bottom line is that Arnold's point -- House members win by big margins -- is essentially correct," Pitney said.
What accounts for that huge margin? Pitney said part of it is deliberate gerrymandering, and part is that "constituencies are increasingly polarized."
"Even in states where you don’t have a partisan (redistricting) process, Democrats tend to live in certain places. Republicans tend to live in others," the professor added.
Supporters of California’s redistricting commission say it’s created more competitive districts. As an example, some cite California's 49th Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Darrell Issa defeated Democrat Douglas Applegate by 0.5 percent of the vote -- the smallest margin of any House race in the nation.
Issa, who’s been in Congress since 2000, has won his district by 20 or even 30 percentage points in previous elections.
But as the Washington Post reported in December 2016, the commission hasn’t led to changes in party control in any of California’s 53 congressional districts for several election cycles:
"For the fourth time in 12 years, not a single one of the state's 50-plus congressional districts switched parties. Just as in 2010, 2008 and 2004, every single seat returned to the party that previously controlled it," the Post reported on Dec. 1, 2016, adding that "competitiveness has only ticked up slightly (in California’s congressional districts) under the new map."
We asked Pitney how well the commission has performed:
"There’s a debate about that," he told us. "Some argue that what appeared to be a nonpartisan process was actually gamed by Democrats. Be that as it may, the real reason for Democratic dominance in congressional elections is there’s just a lot more Democrats in California than there are Republicans. The state’s been trending heavily Democratic for years."
About those dictators
Schwarzenegger also mentioned the electoral margins for dictators. That's not part of this fact-check but we thought it would be fun to check their margins, too.
In 2014, BBC News examined this topic in its article "The world of 100% election victories." Here’s what it found:
-- North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was elected in 2014 by the communist republic’s parliament with 100% votes
-- Former North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il fared almost as well as his son in 2009, winning 99.9 % of votes
-- Former Iraq President Saddam Hussein also won 100% votes in a 2002 referendum
-- Cuban President Raúl Castro earned 99.4% votes in his 2008 election
-- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad secured 97.6% votes for his 2007 presidential referendum.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently claimed the "average margin of victory in the House of Representatives was 37%" among Republicans and Democrats during last year’s election.
That claim is supported by the 37.1 percent margin calculated by independent election tracker ballotpedia.org and longtime politics professor Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College, who put the margin slightly higher at 39 percent.
The evidence shows Schwarzenegger was on target with his claim.
We rated it True.
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, tweet, Feb. 23, 2017
Email interview, Daniel Ketchell, spokesman for Arnold Schwarzenegger, March 13, 2017
Phone interview, Jack Pitney, politics professor, Claremont McKenna College, March 14, 2017
Ballotpedia.org, United States House of Representatives elections, 2016, accessed March 2017
OpenSecrets.org, Reelection Rates Over the Years, accessed March 2017
The Cook Political Report, 56 Interesting Facts About the 2016 Election, Dec. 16, 2016
California Citizens Redistricting Commission, Frequently Asked Questions page, accessed March 16, 2017
BBC News, The world of 100% election victories, March 11, 2014
Washington Post, Schwarzenegger says he’s ‘pumped up’ for nationwide redistricting reform, June 6, 2014
Washington Post, California just proved how cracking down on gerrymandering isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Dec. 1, 2017
Read About Our Process
Browse the Truth-O-Meter
More by Chris Nichols
Nothing inflated in Arnold Schwarzenegger's claim on gerrymandering
Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.