PolitiFact: House Democrats won plurality, not majority, of 2012 popular vote

Published Feb. 21, 2013

The statement

"The majority of (the American people) voted for a Democratic House" in the 2012 election.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in comments to reporters

The ruling

Hoyer spokeswoman Stephanie Young directed us to a December 2012 analysis by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan, Washington publication that analyzes congressional races.

By Cook's calculations, House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.

It was the second time in 70 years that a party won the majority of the vote but didn't win a majority of the House seats, according to the analysis.

Cook's House editor David Wasserman pointed to two "unprecedented" factors that explain the phenomenon: the thick concentration of Democratic votes in urban areas and the GOP's wide control of drawing congressional districts in 2010.

What if we consider votes for candidates whose political party is not Democrat or Republican?

Michael McDonald, George Mason University public affairs professors, says it's almost certain the Democrats would not maintain their majority of the popular vote.

According to his breakdown, House Democratic candidates received 49.15 percent of the vote, Republicans got 48.03 percent, and other candidates got 2.81 percent. That means the Democrats gained a plurality of the vote —but just short of a majority.

To summarize: An impartial and thorough analysis supports Hoyer's claim, at least when considering votes for the two dominant parties.

But when considering votes for candidates of all parties, House Democrats again earned the most votes, but just shy of a majority.

As such, we rate Hoyer's statement Mostly True.

This report has been edited for print. Read the full version at