Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Looking Forward to Redistricting

After the 2010 Census, State Legislatures across the country will begin remapping the U.S. Congressional districts for the next ten years. Under typical political practice, the party in power will draw the district lines so it is the most advantageous to them.

Currently the Democrats control 27 State Legislatures, while the Republicans control just 14. Nebraska has a non-partisan State Legislature and the other 8 are split between their two houses.

In 2008, New York, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Nevada went from split control to Democratic dominated while Oklahoma and Tennessee went from split control to Republican dominated. Ohio and Alaska both went from Republican controlled to split control - although it doesn’t matter in Alaska, where only one Representative is elected for a statewide seat.

It’s certainly a better picture for Democrats than it was in 2000, when Republicans controlled 18 State Legislatures to the Democrats’ 16.

How does it look for the two parties in 2010?

If the Democrats can hold their gains and even pick up a few more states (such as Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan) there is a good outlook for them.

However, population is growing quicker in western states such as Arizona and Utah, which will probably be allocated a few more seats after the Census. This will give the GOP a few more seats, though probably a relatively small number.

All in all, it looks a lot better for Democrats.

So what can the Democrats do to take advantage of the situation?

Tom Schaller, a new blogger at, points out that Democrats have been burdened by the creation of majority-minority districts.

“…Democrats have their core supporters over-packed into too few districts. In the final chapter of my book, Whistling Past Dixie, I demonstrated that the latter was a key factor, in part because race-minded redistricting produces certain districts with overwhelming Democratic majorities, inefficiently so for Democrats.”

The intent of these race-minded redistricting practices is to make Congress more racially representative of America - a admirable goal, but one that appears to set back the Democratic Party. In fact, State Legislatures have gone to great lengths to gerrymander districts to accomplish this goal.

Take the 4th Congressional District in Illinois, which follows the patterns of Hispanic residency around Chicago in order to send a Hispanic representative to Congress.

Schaller also points out a recent study that attributes growing partisan polarization to “the increasing sophistication of redistricting software”.

“‘The trend has also been fueled by a resurgence in straight-ticket voting as each party's electoral coalition has grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1960s.’ (Translation: Republicans cleared out many moderate House Democrats from the South and Plains states while Democrats this decade finally got around to returning the favor, so to speak, by clearing out House Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest.)”

The Democratic State Legislatures could do themselves a big favor towards creating a super-majority in the House of Representatives if they remap district lines to create more politically-diverse districts that will still be easy to win for Democratic candidates.

UPDATE: Ed Kilgore at 538 has a good post that expands on this topic.

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