The back and forth among political demographers, political scientists and journalists on gerrymandering continues at a fevered pitch. Sometimes this debate is more ideological than factually based while at other times individuals stake out at a middle ground such as here and here. This post is my attempt to ascertain the impact of redistricting on electoral outcomes and the debate/gridlock raging in DC without purely partisan/ideological or statistical based arguments. Instead, my case will rest on the outcomes of the 2008 (old lines) and 2012 (new lines) elections in three states. Each state has a different way of drawing their lines and has a significant number of Congressional districts: Texas (legislature draws maps), Ohio (has a Commission composed of partisan elected officials) and California (has an Independent Commission composed of partisan and independent officials).
Let’s start with Texas. Texas, unlike Ohio or California has undergone a significant political shift in the last twenty years. It should also be noted in the mid 2000’s the state GOP redistricted. Looking at the 2008 election results for the state’s then 32 Congressional districts we can see McCain carried 22 of the 32 districts. In every district he carried in the state his margins were much more Republican than his national results. As such we can see that partisan redistricting does have an impact on electoral outcomes (not truly surprising). Now what about 2012? Due to population growth Texas added four additional Congressional districts to its borders by 2012. Statewide Romney carried 58% of the vote while also winning 25 of the state’s 36 Congressional districts. In every district Romney won he did better than his national average and was largely above his statewide margins.
So how about Ohio? In 2008 McCain carried 12 of the state’s 18 districts. However, the margins McCain carried each district by was far smaller than his margins in solidly Republican districts (though the results show these districts have a distinct Republican lean). After the Commission redrew the lines in 2011 and the state lost two of its districts Romney carried 12 of the state’s 16 Congressional Districts. More importantly he carried almost all newly redrawn districts by a larger margin than McCain in every case but one and ran ahead of his statewide/national totals in each. It is also important to note that the President ran ahead of his margins in 2008 in the districts he won, suggesting Democratic voters were packed into these districts.
Lastly, we move to California. Unlike Texas or Ohio, California has had a steady political lean at all levels of governance for at least a decade. Keep in mind Texas had not fully shifted to GOP control at the statewide level until the early 2000’s and Ohio was the quintessential swing state at all levels of governance. Also unlike Ohio or TX, the number of CA’s Congressional districts between 2008 and 2012 did not shift due to redistricting though the lines certainly did. In 2008 McCain carried a paltry 10 of the state’s 53 Congressional districts. In every district McCain won he ran well ahead of his statewide total and a little bit above his national total. Compare this to 2012 after redistricting and Romney did slightly better. Romney carried 12 of the state’s 53 Congressional districts but the state’s GOP Congressional delegation lost multiple members.
Admittedly the above analysis only looks at Presidential results. But if one wants to look at the Congressional results of each state from 2008 to 2012 only comparing districts that existed in both 2008 and 2012 the results suggest not much changes. No Republicans in CA were defeated in 2008, while two Republicans were defeated in Ohio, splitting the state’s Congressional delegation 9-9. In TX, Republicans picked up one seat and it was a Republican leaning seat regardless. The 2010 election is best known for its Tea Party fueled wave. Under the same lines as 2008 no seats switched hands in CA, Republicans picked up four seats in Ohio and in TX the party won a swing district. After redistricting under the new lines in all three states the results were mixed in 2012. Democrats defeated multiple Republican incumbents in CA, in Ohio, no members were defeated and in TX only one seat switched hands; the competitive 23rd went from R to D. So from 2008 to 2012 redistricting in some of the nation’s largest states had minimal impact.
There are other factors to consider. As Sean Trende points out here on Michigan, the Voting Rights Act puts state legislatures and Independent Commissions in a bind on redistricting. Sticking with Trende’s use of Michigan, the fact that blacks have fled Detroit means the legislature had go to extraordinary measures to keep the state’s two majority-minority districts and keep them relatively compact and contiguous.. Using Texas and Ohio as examples, the partisan Republican Commission in Ohio kept its one majority-minority district (metro Cleveland) only by eliminating a GOP and a Democratic district. Looking at the map here one can see just what lengths the Commission had to go to in order to make it a majority-minority district. Texas was embroiled in a Civil Rights lawsuit in 2011 after they passed a new map creating three new safe GOP districts and one majority-minority Democratic district. The end result of the lawsuit was the legislature redrawing the lines to split the districts into two safe GOP seats, one majority-minority seat and a left leaning district slightly below majority-minority population levels according to 2012 election returns.
So what can be gleaned from all this? First off, the idea that GOP members are sitting in solidly safe districts is a myth. Notice the minimal movement in in 2008 to 2012 results by Congressional district. In Ohio, Romney won the same number of districts as McCain, in CA Romney won more districts but at least three Republican Congresspeople lost their seats and in TX, Romney split the four newly created districts much as McCain likely would have under the same lines. Looking at Congressional district results in 2012 for incumbents many Republicans in Ohio won by only slightly larger margins than in 2008. Honestly, there is not much of a difference between winning by 51% or 53%.
Second, that a group of insurgent Tea Party Congressmen/women are the only faction leading the charge for the GOP to block a budget deal is also highly unlikely. One should also consider that they do not sit in safe districts and thus it is hard to argue they are doing this because a solid majority support it. Rather, it seems to indicate the GOP is fighting on principle, as are these members, to lower deficit spending, defund a bad law and put the country on sound financial footing.
Lastly, this limited analysis suggests other factors are playing a large role in the ideological polarization occurring in Congress. Perhaps individuals should look at themselves. Our you a partisan voter, what is the orientation of your neighbors ideologically, etc.? More and more America is self-sorting along partisan and ideological lines though this self-sorting often masquerades as sorting along other lines (think income or race). Why should one expect the members of Congress and even the President to not reflect this reality?
Here is a challenge for you. Look at the results from 2008-2010-2012 for Florida and analyze the results. From these results synthesize an analysis similar to mine and what is contributing to polarization in Congress? Is it really redistricting, the VRA or other factors. I lean towards the latter.
Note: Special thanks to the Daily Kos for assembling an excellent spreadsheet of election returns from 2008 and 2012.