This map shows the partisan balance of state legislatures after the 2016 elections. Particularly noteworthy is how Republicans hold both chambers in nine states Obama carried twice: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Republicans even control one chamber in dark blue New York, while the only Democratic-run chamber in any state Romney or Trump won is in tiny Alaska. With this map in mind, let’s take a look at which party each state’s legislative maps were designed to favor.
The partisan disparity in redistricting is even worse when broken down between upper and lower chambers. As shown above 25 state senates with 57 percent of the population were drawn to favor Republicans while just 11 chambers with 17 percent of the population have maps intended to favor Democrats. Even though Democrats drew the maps in Arkansas, Colorado, Virginia, and West Virginia, Republicans hold majorities after 2016. Democratic gerrymanders in Arkansas and Virginia in particular couldn’t even stop Republicans from winning control the very first time they were used in 2012 and 2011, respectively.
That’s in sharp contrast to Republican-drawn maps in bluer states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where Republicans were firmly in control even after 2012, let alone the more Republican year of 2016. Republican gerrymandering was so effective that despite Obama winning each state, Romney carried half or more districts in Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The vast majority of states have median districts well to the right of the states themselves, or in other words, Romney’s margin was better in most districts than his statewide margin was.
Meanwhile, the biggest and one of the bluest states, California, has nonpartisan maps thanks to an independent redistricting commission, while other blue states like Minnesota and Oregon have nonpartisan maps because neither party controlled the entire government after the 2010 elections during redistricting.
As shown above, the picture is only modestly better for Democrats in state lower chambers, where in contrast to the upper houses, Democrats drew Kentucky and New York, while Republicans drew Virginia. Republicans made the maps for 23 chambers with 52 percent of the population, while Democrats drew a mere 12 chambers with only 22 percent of Americans.
However, just like with Arkansas and West Virginia, Kentucky’s Democratic gerrymander simply couldn’t withstand the state’s sharply Republican lean, and Republicans gained control for the first time since the 1920 elections in 2016. And just like the upper chambers, Republican gerrymandering was so aggressive that Romney captured a majority of lower house seats in several Obama-won states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Republicans did well at the presidential and Senate level in many previously blue states in 2016, and thus we can’t blame gerrymandering for the entirety of their success. In particular, Republicans just barely won majorities in both chambers in Minnesota even while Hillary Clinton carried the state, but the maps there were court-drawn. However, as the previous maps indicate, court-drawn Minnesota is more the exception than the rule.
The striking disparity between the parties in the number of states where they controlled redistricting helps explain the persistent, institutional edge Republicans possess in so many states. Aggressive gerrymanders helped Republicans stay in power in 11 chambers across Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin even in 2012, when Democratic candidates won more overall votes than Republicans did in each each state. Gerrymandering has made state government across much of the U.S. unresponsive to the electorate’s desires.
One possible silver lining to the 2016 elections is that now, nearly every key governor’s race that matters for the next round of redistricting in 2020 will now be taking place under a potentially unpopular Trump administration. If 2018 follows the pattern of the last three midterm elections and unfolds as a backlash to the incumbent president’s party, Democrats could make major gubernatorial gains and be well-positioned to block many future Republican gerrymanders, giving them a fighting chance to win more seats in legislatures and in Congress in the coming decade.
Comments are closed on this story.