note: I know what will be said in this post below will have been said before, both on the web and in other posts on this site and probably in much more articulate terms. But it bears repeating. And should be repeated every day, and in every possible way until the media finally begin to accept it as common fact. Gerrymandering is the number one political problem in this country, far more important than Citizens United or filibuster reform and in 2012 it cost the Democrats from taking control of the House.
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Much has been made over these last few weeks about the GOP's recently won control over the House of Representatives and how this fact should somehow embolden them to refuse to bend on tax rates. This theory is based on the false assumption that the nation as a whole is still a center-right majority and the reason Mitt Romney lost was that he was a flawed candidate who did not articulately explain conservative dogma. The argument goes that the reason the GOP did so poorly in the Senate was because of meddling in GOP primaries by fringe groups and in some cases Dems themselves, McCaskill I'm looking at you, and that those losses shouldn't be looked at as cause for alarm, as much as cause to crack down on the democratic process for electing GOP candidates.
In actual reality, gerrymandering costs the Democrats roughly 23 seats in this last election and incidentally control of the House. Not only that, but the majority of the damage was done in just a handful of states, which all share a curious distinction this year of being considered swing states.
Below the cheese doodle I will briefly lay out my work and assumptions and pose a series of further avenues of discussion.
Now that the final votes are tallied and a majority of the states have already certified their totals, it is a good time to revisit the case against gerrymandering and see how it affected the 2012 election.
I am doing just a broad analysis here and completely understand there are limitations to its usefulness. There are just too many external factors involved to account for everything. A bad candidate, a poorly funded one, a local issue that caused voters to go against their party ID, etc. But bear with me because I think you will see that even when you try and give the benefit of the doubt to all these other factors, the end results still suggest something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Besides the leverpostej that is, but I digress.
So let's assume the following:
That a person voting for the President in this election was likely to also vote for a Democratic House of Representative. And that a person voting for Mittens Romney was likely to vote the opposite. I know that there are people who vote for one party at the top of the ticket and another at the bottom, but this trend is getting smaller as we get more hyper-partisan and in this election there was such hatred for Obama by the right that I find it hard to believe enough Republican voters would vote for Obama at the top of the ticket and then a Republican Representative that it would move the data too much.
Let's also assume then that the vote totals for President are a more clear indication of voter preference with regards to governance than vote totals for Representatives. After all, most incumbent Representatives don't have adequate competition from the other side and with all the money from outside groups, it is much easier to sway the electorate in a Representative race rather than the Presidential one. Besides voting for President is a state wide affair, so those living in highly gerrymandered districts can still vote for their preferred candidate at the top of the ticket, but may not bother with the other races since there is no point.
So basically what I am saying is that if 52% of the voters in Nevada voted for Obama, which they did, then you'd expect roughly 52% of the 4 Representatives Nevada is allocated, going to the Dems. And what do you know, Nevada in 2012 sent 2 Dems and 2 Reps to Congress.
Now this is not an exact science, so let's give ourselves a plus or minus one on the number of Representatives to make sure we are not being nitpicky. So if Nevada sent 3 and 1 instead of 2 and 2, it shouldn't necessarily be seen as a sign of something nefarious, but if Nevada had sent 4 and 0 to the House, I think you could make the argument that isn't in the interest of democracy, because how do 52% of the voters end up with essentially zero representation?
So taking the vote totals of each state and comparing the statistical number of Reps versus the actual number of Reps we can start to look for broad patterns to alert us to anything unusual. First the swing states.
As you can see 6 of the 12 swing states elected more Republicans than the vote total would suggest. A pretty high number that would suggest something caused it rather than just noise. Also, no swing state elected more Democrats than their vote total and the more heavily contested a state, the more likely Republicans were to have an advantage. To wit, the most lopsided states were Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. With only Pennsylvania not receiving the boat loads of advertising the other three states were subjected to.
Now take a look at the rest of the country.
What you can see from the above chart is that the states with the most discrepancies between vote total and House Representation happen to be the states where one party majorly dominates. California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland for the Democrats and Texas and most of the south for the Republicans. But while the Democrats get some relief from gerrymandering from their states, it is not even close to enough to overcome the gerrymandering in GOP states.
Not only that, most of the Dems gerrymandering is concentrated in the two huge states of New York and California. The latter which supposedly has a non-partisan board drawing up districts, but still had a +5 Dem advantage. I don't know what that means, but assuming the board did its job and wasn't secretly working for the DNC, that +5 may very well be in the normal range, but in that case just look at those swing state numbers. There are 3 states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania all with smaller populations than California, but all with a -4 Republican advantage and no non-partisan board. What does this all mean? I don't know, I'm not a scientist. But if it's true the more people that vote, the better Democrats do, then maybe the same is true with regards to gerrymandering. Meaning the less you gerrymander, the better Democrats do. If that is the case then it would make the -4 states even more undemocratic than they already are.
Basically Democrats got 16 seats more than the vote totals might indicate from 5 states. But lost 39 seats from 15 states the GOP controlled.
Now go back to the swing states. Look at the spread between actual Reps and statistical Reps and what you see is striking. Michigan -3, Pennsylvania -4 are perhaps the most egregious results, especially since we won both those states handily. But look at the big 3, Florida -4, Ohio, -4, Virginia, -3. Those are 3 states where Obama spent the most time and money. And it shows in his vote total. But it doesn't show up in the number of Representatives elected from those states.
So is gerrymandering like a Chinese finger trap? The more you run up your vote total in the Presidency, the worse results you end up with on the House side? And if that is true, does that mean we don't really even know the full damage of gerrymandering because it is only the swing states that matter and thus, the only states receiving large sums of advertising? Or to put it another way, what if we took Georgia and made it a swing state. In the last election Georgia gave Obama almost 46% of the vote. That should have been good for 6 of Georgia's 14 Reps. In fact Dems won only 5 of those races. Not too bad considering, but what if Obama had put the money and time into Georgia as he did Ohio? Would we see a situation where the Dems are unable to get more than 5 Reps even though their vote total for Presidency would rise? Is there a limit to the damage that gerrymandering can do? And more importantly how do we change our tactics for 2016 and forward? Because while Georgia may one day become a purple state at the Presidential level, something about this chart tells me that won't affect the House races that much. And since we all see the damage done by a GOP controlled House, we are going to need a better plan than simply pouring money into a state and assuming that will reap offices. Does that mean we need a non-partisan board making the districts? I don't know, like I said, I'm not a scientist. But this is a problem that the politicians won't touch because who wants to give up the power to decide which of your constituents you have to listen to?
Obviously there are many different ways to slice and dice this election data and I fully accept the fact I may have made my analysis entirely too simple to try and make any claims based off of it. But what I do know is this. We all heard the arguments about what to do with taxes. And we voted based on the knowledge that if Obama won, taxes on the rich would go up. To claim that the GOP has a mandate to refute that because it 'won' the House of Representatives is not only patently false, it is insulting to the millions of us who put blood, sweat and tears into this election.
This needs to be screamed about the way that Faux News screams about Benghazi. This should not be left alone because it is hard to do math and stories about gerrymandering are not sexy.
Thank you for listening, carry on.