The Campaign Spot

Redistricting, Not the Cause of the Continued GOP House Majority

Below, I mentioned:

The media is speaking increasingly loudly about the president’s mandate; what they fail to realize is that every member of the House GOP thinks he was reelected (or in the case of the new members being seated in January, elected) with a mandate to oppose all tax increases because they’re economically destructive.

This has caused some lefties on Twitter to argue that the GOP only held its House majority because of gerrymandering.

But that’s not true, or at least there’s quite a bit of evidence against it. For starters, there were states where Democrats controlled redistricting and benefited, like Illinois, and places like California that redrew old incumbent-friendly lines and where the Democrats picked up additional seats. Heading into the election, most analysts felt the most recent round of redistricting added up to a wash between the two parties. Also, there were states where Republicans controlled redistricting and still lost seats, like New Hampshire and Utah; clearly redistricting isn’t a magic wand that can protect any House GOP incumbent or rising star like Mia Love.

But don’t take my word for it; take the assessments from left-of-center guys like Jonathan Bernstein, Eric McGhee, and Kevin Drum; one of the calculations they examine concludes that redistricting can be credited with seven of the Republicans’ 234 seats. If we had just used the old lines, John Boehner would still be speaker, just with a smaller majority.

McGhee concludes that

even under the most generous assumptions, redistricting explains less than half the gap between vote share and seat share this election cycle. . . . We have argued that incumbency is a likely culprit, but as Dan Hopkins recently pointed out, Democrats also do worse because they are more concentrated in urban areas. They “waste” votes on huge margins there, when the party could put many of those votes to better use in marginal seats.

What happens is that a lot of House Democrats in urban districts win by wide margins, sometimes 90–10, while House Republicans won their suburban and rural districts by much closer margins.

The current popular vote in the House races adds up to about 50.29 percent for the Democratic candidates and 49.7 percent for the Republican candidates. You could redraw the district lines to give Democrats a winning percentage in 218 districts with those figures . . . but the new lines would be as jagged, awkward, and bizarre as the ones we have now.


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