Ask a typical non-Republican voter how the GOP maintained control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2012 election, despite Democrats winning a small plurality of the national vote, and you’re likely to hear the answer that Republicans made effective use of gerrymandering. (You would definitely hear that answer in North Carolina, where Republicans turned a 6-7 deficit into a 9-4 majority within the U.S. House delegation despite winning a minority of the votes in 2012.)

But Jay Cost tells Weekly Standard readers there may be another factor at work in the GOP’s recent U.S. House success.

Liberal analysts tend to blame the Democrats’ minority status in the House on Republican gerrymandering, which is ironic considering how expertly their own politicians have rigged districts when given the chance. Indeed, the Democrats’ redistricting of Texas in the 1990s remains a wonderment. As late as 2000, Republicans could carry 51 percent of the two-party House vote in the Lone Star State and win only 13 of 30 House seats.

Still, liberals have a point. After the 2010 census, the GOP did control redistricting in more states than it has for generations, and the final House results in 2012 were striking: Democrats carried a small plurality of the vote nationwide but won only 201 seats. Yet Republican gerrymanders were not the only element at play.

To begin with, the House favors incumbent parties. The GOP advantage in 2012 was noteworthy because the party lost the popular vote while retaining a majority of seats, but its advantage was no larger than previous majority parties have enjoyed. The Democrats defended a House majority in every election from 1954 through 1994, during which time they won an average of 54 percent of the two-party House vote but 60 percent of the seats. In 2012, the GOP won 48 percent of the vote but 54 percent of the seats.

A more salient point is that the House seems to have developed a structural Republican tilt that has grown in recent cycles. It springs from the way the lower chamber is elected: in geographically based, single-member, winner-take-all districts, favoring coalitions whose votes are broadly distributed and disfavoring constituencies that are concentrated. …

… How does all this translate into a structural advantage for Republicans in the House? Simply, Democrats have been winning the cities by large margins for generations, so gains in urban centers yield few new congressional seats. The party’s decline outside the cities, by contrast, has had an enormous effect, all the more since non-urban districts, especially in the South and border states, used to be fairly reliably Democratic. Factor in the decline of ticket-splitting, and down-ballot Democrats in the party’s historic heartland find themselves in trouble.