By now I think it's pretty universally known that Republicans will control the House of Representatives for the next 2 years despite losing the popular vote by, at last count, over 1 million votes. And the seat count wasn't even that close: Republicans will have 234 to the Democrats' 201, or 16 more than are needed for a majority. This success has been widely attributed to Republican gerrymandering, which was made possible by the GOP's sweeping success at the state level in the 2010 elections. And to a large extent, this is hard to deny: Republicans were able to force Democratic incumbents to run against each other, compel others to run in much redder districts, and draw new seats that would be difficult or impossible for any Democrat to win.
But what I want to argue here is that Republican gerrymandering, while certainly important, is not the whole story. To illustrate, I want to focus on the 6 states of North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. What do these states have in common? Well, they were all, to some extent at least, swing states this time around, and in all the GOP controlled redistricting.(1) Ultimately, Obama won 4 of these 6 states, taking in them a combined 50.6% of the vote. However, of the 81 House seats these states contain, Democrats will go into the next Congress controlling only 23, or about 28%.
Now, before getting into my argument there are 2 things I want to point out here: first, a lot of the damage here was done in 2010 when the GOP killed it in marginal districts, and second is to reiterate that GOP gerrymandering here was effective and cannot be ignored.
However, and this is what I (perhaps mistakenly) think has been overlooked so far: though Republicans controlled redistricting in these 6 states, there were still 17 districts where the President won between 47-50% of the vote.(2) Of these 17 seats, Democrats won exactly 0 last November.(3) If the numbers were reversed and it was instead Republicans who had won 0, we would be welcoming back Speaker Pelosi next January.
Although I principally wanted to focus on the 6 states above, largely because the numbers are so extreme, the problem does not only exist there: In Wisconsin there are another 3 districts where Obama got between 47%-50%, in Washington State another 2, in Florida 4. Only 1 of those 9 districts was won by a Democrat (Patrick Murphy in FL-18.)(4)
So what is my point here? I imagine most readers here will know that when you are drawing a gerrymander, the goal is not to maximize the number of 53-47 districts or, heaven forbid, 51-49 districts that favor your party. Rather, depending on the specific area in question, you aim for districts where your party won 55-57% of the vote. Any lower and, at least in theory, you risk allowing the other party to upset. Well, although the GOP was in control in all the states discussed, there was only so much they could in the face of these states' light-blue or swing-state natures. GOP candidates would have to do the rest. Last month, they did, and as a result we have 2 more years of Speaker Boehner and divided government.
Maybe this was an obvious point, but I thought it was worth making: even in states were Republicans controlled redistricting and were absolutely ruthless (just take a look at the NC map if you doubt this), Democrats were left with a bunch of winnable districts. Unfortunately, they largely failed to win them. I'm not a campaign strategist, so I don't have any grand suggestions as to how to do it, but if we're going to retake the House this is going to have to change.
(1) IIRC the Democrats were actually in control of the VA State Senate when the congressional map was passed, but let the GOP do whatever they wanted in an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to try to save their own skins. For the purpose of this diary I am treating VA as if it was under full GOP control, since it effectively was (again, IIRC.)
(2)This was a rough calculation I did by looking at the drop-off for the President in each of these states and applying that to the 2008 numbers in this site's Pres. results by CD. I know that the swing in each state will not be applied equally across each district, but I think my point will still hold when the final results are known.
(3)Although it should be noted that Mike McIntyre did hold NC's 7th district for the Dems. Obama will probably end up with only around 40% of the vote here (!) Of further note is that the next "reddest" district won by a Democrat in the states discussed here was PA-17, which Obama should end up winning by around 55-44.
(4)At the opposite end of this spectrum, strangely enough, is Arizona, where 3 districts fall into this range, and Democrats won all 3.