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How Pennsylvania’s court-drawn political map could change 2018 election dynamics

A brief follow-up to something I wrote about two weeks ago, namely the crisis over the almost-hilariously-gerrymandered congressional map of Pennsylvania. There’s a new, less tortured map, written by the state Supreme Court, just barely in time for the election of Pennsylvania’s 18 U.S. House members to get organized.

If you look at that previous piece, you’ll see the old map, which contained one district so tortured in its shape that it was nicknamed Goofy Kicking Donald Duck. You can see the new map in this AP story. This is like a textbook case in the kind of map you get if one party is trying to maximize its yield of seats versus the kind of map you get when relatively neutral officials, not trying to accomplish a partisan objective, draw a map that follows existing boundaries, like county lines.

It’s a rarity to gerrymander so blatantly that your map gets struck down by the courts. After the old map was struck down, the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic governor were unable to agree on a new map, so the state Supreme Court drew the new map.

Of course, things being as they are, you might be wondering how this will affect the race for control of the U.S. House. Most of the reviews say it will substantially increase the likelihood of Democrats picking up seats, although we’re nine months away from Election Day and many political winds will blow between now and then.

It’s only natural that a fairer, nonpartisan map will be better for Democrats, since the last one was drawn blatantly to help Republicans. In Pennsylvania, a state that Donald Trump carried in 2016 by 48.2 to 47.5 percent over Hillary Clinton, you might expect a fair map to produce a closely divided congressional delegation. But thanks to Goofy, Donald and the other vagaries of the Pennsylvania map, Republicans won the race for U.S. House seats by 13-5.

Everyone studying the new map expects it to produce a more closely divided House delegation from Pennsylvania in 2018, which would help the Dems in their daunting quest to take over the House. It would be silly to think anyone knows what impact the new map will have on that current 13-5 Republican advantage, but Chris Cillizza of CNN interviewed via email Jonathan Tamari, the national political reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, about his first impressions of how the map might play out in 2018.

Cillizza: Take a step back. How big a deal is this new map for Democrats trying to take back the House? For Republicans trying to keep it?

Tamari: Huge. Under the old map, Democrats had one really good chance to flip a GOP seat and two or three others that were possible, but tough. Now you have to make Democrats the favorite to gain at least three Pennsylvania seats, and maybe more given the political environment this year. If a major wave shapes up, you could even see them going from five seats in Congress to 11.

In another year, they’d be unlikely to fare that well and Republicans would have a good shot at a majority of the seats in good GOP years. But for 2018, you combine this new map with the traditional midterm backlash against the party in power, the current Democratic energy and presidential approval ratings, and suddenly, the state that effectively sealed President Trump’s victory could be on the leading edge of Democrats’ push to win back the House.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/20/2018 - 03:41 pm.

    We can only hope

    a fairer drawing of district boundaries will result in a fairer Congressional delegation. There are, as Eric suggests, many political winds yet to blow before we get to November. This result also leads me to speculate – pointlessly, I’m sure – about the result of **every** state’s Congressional districts were determined by the courts rather than partisan legislatures. I’m not at all sure it would be good – or bad – but it’s an interesting thought, since political parties have proven themselves unethical, to say the least, when drawing such boundaries themselves. Power corrupts…

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/20/2018 - 03:49 pm.

    And the slow unwind of gerrymandering and vote suppression continues, the dinosaurs wonder why the winters are becoming colder…

  3. Submitted by Eric Anondson on 02/20/2018 - 09:02 pm.

    I really like the new Pennsylvania districts.

    I believe the new districts, by being more balanced can begin to help reduce the extremes our parties have shifted towards. By being more competitive, I believe, these districts can start shifted the two parties towards more moderation in their positions, ideologies, and rhetoric.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/21/2018 - 12:41 pm.

    This redistricting is so sane and clear-eyed that it brought, or is expected/announced to be bringing, a lawsuit by Republicans against it. Or against the judges who made the ruling and redistricting map.

    Does anyone have more information on that lawsuit?

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