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Interactive map of the 2012 congressional districts, click to enlarge

In November 2012, the American electorate voted to give Democrats unified control of government. President Obama won re-election with a majority of the vote, Senate Democrats increased their seat count, and Democratic candidates for the House won the popular vote. However, because of the way in which districts are drawn, Republicans easily maintained control of the House.

This article is the culmination of hundreds of hours of research and work. I want to demonstrate why I firmly believe partisan gerrymandering by itself can be held responsible for Republicans keeping the House. The year 2012 was two-and-a-half years ago and Republicans clearly still would have won the House in 2014 without gerrymandering. Nonetheless, it is still relevant today, because despite the very real chance Democrats win the presidency and Senate, no serious prognosticator deems the House in play for 2016.

Past work by political scientists has aimed to show how the geographic clustering of Democratic voters is instead the cause of 2012's outcome, but this research is flawed. This work prioritizes above all else geometric compactness, defined by the minimization of district boundary length and the distance from any point to the center. This method inherently will produce a pro-Republican outlook that is not supported by other traditional redistricting principles. We should think of districts as collections of constituents, not abstract geometric shapes on a map that a computer can randomly generate.

I wanted to see what the outcome might have been if I drew the best possible map for each individual state using the free Dave's Redistricting App. Because I want to measure the partisan impact of gerrymandering, there are a few principles that must be followed. Rather than value compactness over everything else, it is paramount that these principles be balanced with respect to one another. In order of prioritization these are:

1. Ignoring partisanship.
2. Compliance with the Voting Rights Act's demand for majority-minority districts.
3. Utilizing communities of interest like shared culture, economic class, etc.
4. Minimization of unnecessary county and municipality splits.
5. Geographic compactness. Not mathematically minimizing district boundary length, but drawing districts so that they don't combine disparate parts of intrastate regions.

Head below the fold to learn so much more.

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Center for Range Voting's hypothetical North Carolina congressional districts created by Ivan Ryan, drawn using the split-line method devised by Warren Smith.
Split-line North Carolina congressional map from the Center for Range Voting

It is often proposed that the solution to gerrymandering and drawing the perfect districts is to have a computer draw lines to be as geometrically compact as possible. Along with equal populations, the desire is to have the lines be as straight as possible with the circumference to surface area ratio minimized and you will have fair, non-partisan districts.

However, this method is not only flawed, it has no basis in logic for how districts have ever been drawn practically anywhere and for good reason. Yet sadly, the emphasis on compactness has cropped up even in academic political science.

We should think of districts as collections of constituents, not abstract geometric shapes on a map that a computer can randomly generate. The entire purpose of using districts rather than electing every member at-large is so that distinct groups of people in each state get to elect the representative of their choosing. Thus it makes no sense to combine areas that have nothing in common except that they fit neatly into a square. Districts should be united by common factors such as demography, culture, socioeconomic class, and geography.

I'll explain this and a whole lot more below the fold.

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The interactive map above shows which party won and what the percentage for the four main parties was. Orange is the center-left NDP, red is the centrist to center-left Liberals, blue is for the center-right Progressive Conservatives, and green is for the right-wing Wildrose Party.

Congratulations to the New Democratic Party, the social democrats who won control of the Alberta legislature for the first time ever tonight. This represents the first time a left-of-center party has won there in 85 years. Shocking is an understatement.

Tue May 05, 2015 at  9:32 PM PT (David Nir): Check out all that orange:

Map and cartogram of preliminary 2015 Alberta provincial election results

Tue May 05, 2015 at  9:39 PM PT (David Nir): For a detailed and sophisticated background on the circumstances that led to this historic sea change, check out James L.'s primer on Alberta's politics and his preview of tonight's election.

Tue May 05, 2015 at 10:29 PM PT: Here's an updated interactive map of the results.

5:29 PM PT: The above map has been updated to reflect the final results.

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Forget the top one percent, the top 0.01 percent of Americans gave nearly 42 percent of all political donation dollars in the 2012 election cycle. Just over 30,000 individuals contributed nearly half of all money. It is no coincidence that this proportion has increased steadily as economic inequality has increased. In 1990 when I was born, the figure was just under 13 percent. If we expanded the scope to the full one percent, you can be damn sure they gave the overwhelming majority of dollars in recent years.

Candidates devote 80 percent of their time to begging rich people for money. Any extremist Republican can get a billionaire sugar daddy. The world's eighth richest man can summon the entire Republican primary field to kiss his ring. Millionaires are now complaining about being ignored in favor of billionaires. The average member of Congress is a millionaire.

It should come as no surprise that policymakers look after the ultra-wealthy instead of the rest of us. This trend of increasing economic and political inequality shows no sign of abating. Inequality is incompatible with democracy and it has created a plutocracy. Republicans like Marco Rubio are even proposing abolishing capital gains taxes in an all-out assault on those who actually earn their income.

 photo Wall Quotes - Abraham Lincoln - Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could n_zps6xzkpcop.jpg

Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, brought to you by the Supreme Court. Honest Abe must be spinning in his grave over what his party has become.

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2014 U.S. House, Overall Win Margin

Daily Kos Elections is pleased to present a comprehensive look back at the 2014 election results, illustrated with a broad range of fully interactive maps and data visualizations. The above map, for instance, shows the 2014 U.S. House results by overall winning margin between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats in blue Republicans in red. Click on a district and you will find info about the winner of each district, the 2014 election results, and the 2012 presidential results as calculated by Daily Kos Elections. The full-screen versions of this and the House maps below also have a map legend.

Aside from uncontested seats, the largest winning margins for each party were Democrat Nydia Velázquez's 80 point win in New York's 7th district and Republican Mac Thornberry's 72 point win in Texas' 13th district. Arizona's 2nd district was the closest race of 2014, with Republican Martha McSally defeating incumbent Democrat Ron Barber by just 0.07 percent.

The interactive scatterplot below illustrates the very strong relationship between 2012 presidential and 2014 House performance. Hover over a dot and you will find the district winner and basic result stats, utilizing the two-party-only vote. Outliers to the top and left saw Democrats overperform, while those to the bottom and right saw Republicans do so.

2014 U.S. House Democratic Vote vs. Obama 2012

The non-interactive version also provides a line of best fit. There's very little variation around the best-fit line, as the two election outcomes were highly correlated. Presidential performance in 2012 was the single most informative predictor 2014 congressional outcomes.

Head below the fold to see more maps on the House as well as similar visualizations for the Senate.

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Comparison of 2008 and 2016 Democratic primary polling.
Comparison of 2008 and 2016 polling until the first day of primary contests, via the New York Times
Hillary Clinton has had a rough time recently after news broke that she used private email to conduct all business as secretary of state. Never mind that it was likely legal, or that Republican predecessors did it too. The situation and how poorly she's handled it renewed calls for a progressive primary challenger in Elizabeth Warren. Yet this is a waste of time and money, because Clinton would almost certainly win the nomination anyway.

Her polling lead is far larger than it ever was in 2007. She has consolidated her support among party elites since then. In 2000, a serious, progressive primary challenge by former Senator Bill Bradley did little to improve Al Gore as a candidate. Instead of wasting time and energy pining for Warren to run, progressives should focus on what actually can improve a Clinton presidency by winning back Congress.

I will readily acknowledge my own disdain with Clinton, wishing instead that Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown were running. Her oftentimes strategically poor political decisions can induce heartburn and Elizabeth Warren would without a doubt be better on the issues. However, this ideological difference is almost trivial compared to the disparity between unified government under Clinton and continuing today’s gridlock under Warren.

The most important difference come 2017 would be potential Supreme Court vacancies. Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy 80, Antonin Scalia 80, and Stephen Breyer 78. It would not matter how much more progressive Warren is than Clinton if Republicans still hold the Senate then. A Democratic majority would likely use the nuclear option if needed to defeat a filibuster given unprecedented recent abuse of that tool by Republicans. However, a Republican majority might demand a very centrist nominee or someone unacceptable to progressives entirely.

Other appointments matter as well, but there’s also legislation. Healthcare reform, financial reform, the stimulus; these all took unified government to accomplish. But 2009 also showed that it matters to have progressive Democrats in Congress as well. Both Warren and Clinton would support immigration reform, climate legislation, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women. Republicans in Congress would continue to block all of these things, even if executive actions might work at the margins. Fortunately for Democrats, the 2016 cycle is nearly all offense thanks to successive Republican midterm waves.

Head below the fold to see which races in particular are important for progressive pick-up or primary opportunities.

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Interactive map of Arizona's current congressional districts
This past week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case brought by the Republican-controlled Arizona state legislature that could result in the invalidation of Arizona's and California's congressional district maps. This is because those maps were implemented by independent redistricting commissions established via ballot initiative; Republicans contend that the constitution specifies that because the "legislature" shall decide the time, place, and manner of how elections are conducted, that literally means the legislature itself, not merely those with the ability to pass laws, such as the people (at the ballot box).

In the event that these redistricting commissions are struck down, Republicans in Arizona will certainly pass a new congressional gerrymander aimed at winning more seats, and California Democrats could do the same. Here at Daily Kos Elections, community members including myself have a hobby of drawing our own congressional maps using the free Dave's Redistricting App, so we'd love to see the best gerrymanders you can draw for Arizona and California, whether realistic or pure fantasy. We've also created a display table template you can download that allows you to tidily present the demographic and election results that DRA spits out.

Arizona Republicans will probably aim for a map that will elect seven Republicans and just two Democrats, for a net gain of two seats. California, meanwhile, can be a very difficult state to redistrict for many users because of its size (it requires a fast processor and a lot of memory). You can mitigate this by bumping up DRA's quota to several hundred megabytes and loading the state without legislative districts, city lines, and the voting age population. Additionally, both states have multiple districts protected by the Voting Rights Act (so be careful if tinkering with them). To give you a benchmark, we've made a spreadsheet with the demographics and election statistics of the current districts for both states.

For some inspiration, Skaje has collected some relevant maps community members have posted in the past. So go ahead and show us what you can come up with now!

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New York state Senate

Using the 2012 presidential election results according to state legislative districts calculated by Daily Kos Elections, we've put together interactive district maps of those results along with the most recent legislative results and basic information about each lawmaker. Each chamber has a separate link for both 2012 and 2014 in this permanent post, which you can also find on the Daily Kos Elections sidebar.

For each map, districts in solid blue were carried by Obama and are represented by a Democrat, while those in solid red were won by Mitt Romney and are held by a Republican. Lighter red districts voted for Obama and a Republican legislator, while those in lighter blue went for Romney and a Democratic legislator. Because some states have multi-member districts, those electing a split delegation but voting for Obama are the lightest red while split delegations in Romney districts are the lightest blue.

Independent-held districts are colored green. Several Democrats in multiple states who caucus with Republicans are colored yellow. (No Republicans anywhere caucus with Democrats.) All vacant seats are assigned to the party that last won them. (Note that a few chambers require two separate maps to visualize, explained in the "Notes" section at the bottom of this post.) Let's look at a couple of the most interesting chambers.

The New York State Senate (displayed at the top of this post) is arguably the worst Republican-gerrymandered chamber in the entire country, with Republicans holding a bare majority of 32 of 63 seats in a state Obama carried by 28 points. Making matters worse, six nominal Democrats whose districts are in yellow support the Republicans, giving the ruling coalition an overall majority of 38 seats. The mainstream Democratics hold just 24 seats, while one indicted Democrat is not part of any caucus.

What makes this so galling for Democrats is that Obama carried 55 of 63 districts—Romney only carried eight. However, Republicans hold 25 of these Obama seats. The lone Democrat in a Romney district (Simcha Felder) outright caucuses with the Republicans while the five turncoat "Independent" Democrats hold Obama seats. To further illustrate how effective this gerrymander is for the GOP, the median Senate seat only went for Obama by a 56 to 43 spread, or 12 points with rounding. That's a remarkable 16 points narrower than the president's statewide margin.

Head below the fold to learn about another interesting chamber out west.

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Nirvana - "Heart-Shaped Box" - 1993

Welcome to the weekly open thread for policy discussions by DK Elections regulars. While the main Daily Kos Elections blog, an official subsite of Daily Kos, is strictly a policy free zone for discussions of politics and elections only, it can sometimes be hard not to bring up policy issues when talking about particular candidates or topics. In addition, some of us might like to have a thoughtful discussion with other regular commenters at DKE on issues of policy when most of what we usually talk about pertains to elections. Thus, this open thread and the group blog Daily Kos Elections: Policy will provide a forum to talk about issues without derailing DKE Live Digests for those who just want election coverage and debate. Feel free to follow this group and if you would like to publish a diary to the group blog page, just PM me about becoming a contributor.

So what issues are you interested in talking about?

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 photo Results-USHouseElectionNetChange_zps3dd72ee0.png

US House net change by party, click through for full size

With nearly every race for the new Congress decided, I have compiled some key stats about the new 114th Congress and created a Google Docs guide to the 535 members and the districts or states they represent. For each constituency I have listed the 2014 and 2012 election results, the 2012 and 2008 presidential results calculated by Daily Kos Elections, 2010 census demographics, as well as some basic demographic information about each member such as age, religion, the year first elected, and a pronunciation guide which I have found surprisingly helpful as someone whose news consumption is almost all through reading.

Head below the fold for a preview of this guide, along with some charts and maps of some basic chamber-wide demographic stats like gender and race plus the remaining members who defected on past major votes such as Obamacare.

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Led Zeppelin - "Gallows Pole" - 1970

Welcome to the weekly open thread for policy discussions by DK Elections regulars. While the main Daily Kos Elections blog, an official subsite of Daily Kos, is strictly a policy free zone for discussions of politics and elections only, it can sometimes be hard not to bring up policy issues when talking about particular candidates or topics. In addition, some of us might like to have a thoughtful discussion with other regular commenters at DKE on issues of policy when most of what we usually talk about pertains to elections. Thus, this open thread and the group blog Daily Kos Elections: Policy will provide a forum to talk about issues without derailing DKE Live Digests for those who just want election coverage and debate. Feel free to follow this group and if you would like to publish a diary to the group blog page, just PM me about becoming a contributor.

So what issues are you interested in talking about?

Discuss

Pink Floyd - "Childhood's End" - 1972

Welcome to the weekly open thread for policy discussions by DK Elections regulars. While the main Daily Kos Elections blog, an official subsite of Daily Kos, is strictly a policy free zone for discussions of politics and elections only, it can sometimes be hard not to bring up policy issues when talking about particular candidates or topics. In addition, some of us might like to have a thoughtful discussion with other regular commenters at DKE on issues of policy when most of what we usually talk about pertains to elections. Thus, this open thread and the group blog Daily Kos Elections: Policy will provide a forum to talk about issues without derailing DKE Live Digests for those who just want election coverage and debate. Feel free to follow this group and if you would like to publish a diary to the group blog page, just PM me about becoming a contributor.

So what issues are you interested in talking about?

Discuss
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