Gerrymandering is one of our foremost concerns at Daily Kos Elections. Following the GOP’s 2010 midterm wave election, Republican map-makers gained control of the redistricting process in a far greater number of states than Democrats. That advantage allowed Republicans to cement their hold on Congress and in legislatures nationwide.
But it doesn't have to be this way. We previously proposed congressional maps for every state using traditional nonpartisan redistricting criteria—the criteria that courts or nonpartisan redistricting commissions would use if they were in charge. These proposals allow us to see what hypothetical maps free from partisan influence would look like, and by comparing them with actual maps, we can also estimate the impact of gerrymandering. In this series, we will investigate how the 2016 elections might have turned out by comparing the presidential results for each congressional district under existing maps with our hypothetical versions.
Virginia Republicans drew an aggressive gerrymander shown below that comfortably secured them an eight-to-three majority of seats in 2012 and 2014, even though President Obama carried the state by 4 percent in 2012. A court later struck down the GOP map for unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, which led to a new map in 2016 that created an extra heavily black (and Democratic) 4th District. Still, major elements of the Republican gerrymander remained, and Team Red maintained a seven-to-four majority in 2016 even as Hillary Clinton won the state by 5 percent.
Our proposed nonpartisan map seen above would redraw Northern Virginia in particular to create three districts contained entirely within the inner suburbs of Washington, D.C. Under the hypothetical map shown above, Clinton carried five of 11 districts, which happens to be the same as the existing map. However, she won a 61-33 landslide over Donald Trump in our proposed 10th District, far bigger than her 52-42 victory in the actual 10th. That 18-point larger Clinton margin very likely would have doomed Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, who prevailed by just 53-47 in a heavily contested race against Democrat LuAnn Bennett. Therefore, we’d expect this map to produce six Republican members of Congress and five Democrats.
Consequently, despite the court’s efforts to curtail part of the GOP’s gerrymander, the new court-ordered map still likely netted Republicans one extra seat in 2016, since they took seven seats under the existing lines versus just six under our proposal. And to be clear: This nonpartisan map is not designed to favor Democrats. If it were, Democrats would instead win a majority of seats, since Clinton (and Obama, twice) carried Virginia. So this outcome shows that while a nonpartisan map would better reflect Virginia’s electoral composition, it would still benefit Republicans, something activists need to keep in mind as they tackle redistricting reform nationwide.
We're taking a look at the impact of Republican gerrymanders on the 2016 congressional elections. Click here for the full series.