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November 08, 2012


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I would agree with the observation that gerrymandering may have made a difference in this election. How much of a difference? I wouldn't hazard a guess. But if California and the overall Congressional popular vote is anything to go by then gerrymandering may be hindering the Republican Party from making the necessary internal changes to appeal to a wider electoral base in the future....which is a bad thing in the long run.

By the way, will there be any post on Puerto Rico's recent referendum and elections and Congress' expected reaction (http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/266799-congress-expected-to-ignore-puerto-ricos-statehood-vote)?

Virginia is a fairly brutal example. It's a purple state by any reasonable standard: went for Obama in the last two elections, regularly elects Democratic governors (Wilder, Warner, Kaine), currently has two Democratic Senators.

But its 11 HOR seats are split 8-3 GOP. Why? Because the GOP has controlled both houses of the VA legislature since forever. They've meticulously gerrymandered not only the congressional districts, but their own -- meaning that it will take deep demographic change to fix this. (It won't be the result of a wave election, because VA is one of those silly states that holds its elections in odd-numbered years -- thus pretty much guaranteeing low turnout and tipping the balance in favor of the status quo.)

Of the three Dem seats, two are super-safe -- Dem voters in northern Virginia and Richmond / Norfolk herded into supermajority districts that weren't remotely threatened even in 2010. The third is safe-ish -- Obama by 15 points.

So that's between one and three seats right there. A reasonably redistricted VA would be 4-7, 5-6 or 6-5. (One redistricted to favor the Dems could probably get 8-3 the other way, but that's not happening any time soon.)

Doug M.

I'm curious as to how Virginia pulled that off. One danger of gerrymandering too many seats is that you run the risk of a relatively small change turfing out the entire delegation, or at least a big chunk of that. How does the state avoid that fate in presidential years like '08?

Sure, I'm oversimplifying. Here's the slightly more complex version: the gerrymandering seems to have produced two rock-solid Dem districts (one of which, the Eighth belongs to the loathsome Jim Moran), four districts that are even more rock-solid GOP (one of which, the Seventh, belongs to the egregious Eric Cantor), and four that are swingy but tend GOP.

Back in the 1990s, before the gerrymandering, the Virginia delegation was consistently 6-5 or 5-6. (Which is interesting, given that VA was consistently voting GOP at the presidential level all through those years.) Then starting with the 107th Congress -- elected in 2002, using a gerrymandered map based on the 2000 census -- whoosh, it was 8-3 GOP. It stayed that way until 2008, when three Dems (Glenn Nye, Tom Perriello, and Gerry Donnelly) won in the swingy districts. (You may remember Perriello as the guy who beat the odious Virgil Goode, one of the more reeking members of the Wingnut Caucus.) So that flipped it to 5-6 in favor of the Dems... but only for a single cycle; 2010 came along and, bam, back to 8-3 again. This cycle saw no change, except that the one swingy district held by a Dem seems to have gone more solidly Dem -- nice, but not helpful at the macro level.

Doug M.

Whoops, that should be two solid Dem, five solid GOP, and four swingy. Dems briefly peaked when they grabbed all four swingers in 2008; they lost three back the next cycle.

Doug M.

Pennsylvania (13-5 GOP despite going for the Democrat at the Presidential level in every election since 1992) is regularly cited as another example. I don't know enough to say if that's so or not. Googling things like "Pennsylvania gerrymander" gives plenty of hits, but I'd want to be more familiar with state politics and process.

Mother Jones gives the prima facie case in these two articles: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/11/boehner-gerrymandering-gop-majority-mandate and the followup with more detail http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/republicans-gerrymandering-house-representatives-election-chart. Plausible IMO, but I'd definitely want to see more detail on the state-by-state level. That said, I don't find it implausible that successful gerrymanders cost the Dems between 15 and 25 seats net nationwide.

(There's something wrong when you're going to Mother Jones for competent, relatively dispassionate analysis. Just saying.)

Doug M.

Counterarguments from our friends at the Monkey Cage:




Doug M.

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