Thursday, April 14, 2022

While Democrats Won Congressional Redistricting, Voters Lost as the Number of Competitive Districts Decline

The website for political junkies, FiveThirtyEight, has an article demonstrating that Democrats won congressional redistricting although Republicans controlled redistricting in far more states:

As the maps stand on March 30 at 5 p.m. Eastern, 175 congressional districts have a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean1 of D+5 or bluer, 181 have a partisan lean of R+5 or redder and 33 are in the “highly competitive” category between D+5 and R+5. 

That’s a net increase of 11 Democratic-leaning seats from the old maps. Meanwhile, the number of Republican-leaning seats has decreased by six, as has the number of highly competitive seats.

Of course, that’s just the partisan lean of the districts. To get a sense for how these changes will affect the race for control of the chamber, you need to factor in which party currently controls each seat (not to mention the national political environment, but put that aside for a moment). Still, Democrats are likely to gain seats from redistricting in 2022 even after you consider that they already hold a lot of those newly blue-leaning seats. By my calculations, redistricting alone should net Democrats about two more seats in the House next year,2 while Republicans are in position to lose around three or four seats on net from the process.3 Of course, the national political environment (which is currently Republican-leaning) will have a much bigger impact on the 2022 midterms than redistricting, so this doesn’t mean Democrats are favored to hold onto the House — but it does mean that redistricting made that task slightly more possible.

We also have a good sense for what the new maps will look like in the four states that have yet to enact them;4 Florida is the only state that might deviate significantly from the old map. If we add their projected partisan breakdowns on top of the numbers we already have, I estimate that we’ll end up with 220-223 districts that are to the right of the nation as a whole and 212-215 districts that are to the left of the nation as a whole. Pretty evenly split!

But the most interesting analysis is FiveThirtyEight's discussion of the tipping point congressional district:

Accordingly, the tipping-point congressional district — the one that theoretically would be the majority-clinching 218th seat for either party — should be historically close. Since 1996, the tipping-point House seat has always had a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of R+2.7 or redder. In recent years, it’s been closer to R+5 — meaning, in theory, Democrats have to win the national aggregate House vote by roughly 5 or more percentage points to win a majority in the House. Depending on how things shake out in the remaining four states, the tipping-point seat could be anywhere from R+1.0 to R+1.9 in 2022.

Note on the chart how the tipping-point seat’s partisan lean lurched rightward in both 2002 and 2012, reflecting Republicans’ gains in redistricting after the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Not only did Democrats break this mini-streak of good redistricting cycles for Republicans, but they also reversed the effects of two pro-GOP redistricting cycles in one fell swoop.

Even in Democrats’ worst-case scenario at this point, the House’s long-standing (we’re talking over 50 years) bias toward Republicans would drastically diminish. That would certainly be historic — but it wouldn’t mean everything is finally hunky-dory with our congressional maps. Some of this increase in balance is thanks to courts striking down Republican gerrymanders in states such as North Carolina, but Democrats achieved this near-parity mostly through gerrymanders of their own in states such as New York and Illinois. The result is an overall national map that looks fair but individual state maps that are anything but.

Indeed. While Democrats won redistricting overall, voters and democracy lost.  Republicans and Democrats focused their redistricting efforts on creating safer districts with more incumbents who will be immune from general election competition.   That means more crazy far right and far left members of Congress and fewer moderates in both parties.  

OOP's short takes:

  • News today is that an Indiana man was killed robbing a bank in California.  Robbing a bank today is an incredibly irrational act.  Most of the money handled by today's banks involves electronic transfers of money.  They keep very little cash on hand. The most prolific bank robber of the 21st Century is Anthony Hathaway, a former Boeing engineer, who stole money to subsidize his heroin addiction.  In robbing 30 banks in one year's time, an incredible rate that exceeds any bank robber that I'm aware of, Hathaway averaged a take of $2,500 per bank.

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