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Before I stop filibustering about gerrymandering

Just a brief follow-up to the post just below, based a bit of data that just came to my attention via Chris Cillizza, who heads up The Wash Post’s politics blog “The Fix.” Here’s data bit:

“Of the 199 Democrats in the House at the start of the 113th Congress, a majority — 51 percent(!) — won their race with 67 percent of the vote or higher.  Among the 234 Republicans elected in the last election, 67 — or roughly 29 percent of the GOP conference — won with 67 percent or higher.”

Cillizza is interested in the huge number of overall districts that are supersafe for the incumbent, considering that he or she won his or her last race with 67 percent or more of the vote. That certainly suggests a point about how few seats are really in play.

But I’m more interested in the disparity between the parties and what it suggests about the gerrymander question. Of those who represent these supersafe districts, 101 of them are Democrats representing more than half of the Dem caucus. But just 67 are Repubs, representing just 29 percent of the Repub caucus.

I don’t want to oversimplify this. As Rich Crose said in a smart comment on the previous post, some of this has to do with changes in the way people decide to live. More people are choosing to congregate among the like-minded, which includes the politically like-minded. (See Bill Bishop’s book, “The Big Sort.”) If the mapmakers wanted to create the maximum number of swing districts, it would be difficult.

But, to the degree that the mapmakers are (let’s say Republican) partisans seeking to maximize the number of house seats their parties will win, the obvious thing to do is to pack as many Democrats as they can into one district. Sure that district will elect a Dem, but every “extra” vote that Dem gets above 50 percent is one more more Dem vote that won’t cause a problem for a Republican in another district.

On the map that runs with Cillizza’s post, look at Ohio. It’s a state that Pres. Obama carried, yet its house delegation is 12-4 Republican. All four of the Dems are in districts that show up as solid deep blue on the Wash Post’s map, meaning that they won with more than 67 percent of the vote. None of the Repub 12 districts represented by Republicans are bright red.

Okay, I’ll stop obsessing.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 10/07/2013 - 01:15 pm.

    Keep obsessing

    There is a story here. Look at Pennsylvania. Obama got 52% of the vote. Democratic congressional candidates got 51% of the total vote. Republicans won 13 of 18 congressional seats, 72%.

    The five democrats won with 60-89% of the vote. Republican victories ranged from 51-64%.

    The census bureau website is down, but I’d like to see the population figures for those congressional districts as well. Are they packing proportionately more people into those Democratic districts?

  2. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 10/07/2013 - 02:16 pm.

    Non-Partisan Commissions

    It’s okay to obsess about something when it is important, as this issue certainly is.

    Perhaps we need more folks to call the creation of non-partisan redistricting commissions, like what is seen in Iowa and to a lesser degree California and Arizona, to do the job of line drawing.

    In our fair state, when is the last time the legislature actually was able to agree on a map? I’ll give you a hint, there was a Kennedy in the White House! (I’d link to the source which is at the state senate’s web page but that is forbidden here.)

    Think about the states that have gone through mid-decade redistricting (Texas – successful; and Colorado – struck down by their state supreme court) also and what a sham that is.

    So let’s obsess about getting it right. A Commission is a good place to start.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/07/2013 - 05:26 pm.

    The numbers add up

    A win is a win.
    As you’ve pointed out, the main point of gerrymandering is to pack the opposition as tightly as possible into as few districts as possible.
    The fact that relatively fewer (29% vs. 51%) Republicans won house seats by overwhelming margins is consistent with this.

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