Democrats have suffered historic losses in recent years. While honest Democrats will admit that their losses are due to self-inflicted wounds including Obamacare, ignoring the concerns of blue-collar workers and focusing almost exclusively on a urban coalition, less honest Democrats seek a scapegoat not of their making. That scapegoat is gerrymandering.
After the 2010 election Republicans had the ability to draw lines in dozens of states to their advantage. They did this to deadly effect in states all across the Midwest and the South. But, in handful of states, including Minnesota, the idea that gerrymandering is PRIMARILY responsible for the Republican advantage in the states and Congress is shown as a lie.
Minnesota has not voted for a statewide, federal Republican candidate since 2002. Donald Trump’s narrow loss was the first time since the 60’s when the state was more Republican than the nation. Minnesota’s substantial leftward tilt in statewide races can be attributed to the power of urban Minneapolis and St. Paul and the power of GOP leaning suburbs and rural areas cannot match the raw vote share of these areas (unlike Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Michigan).
While the Twin Cities give Democrats an advantage in statewide races (which has been eroding for some time) the same cannot be said for legislative races. Indeed, a federal court redrew the legislative lines in a nonpartisan manner in 2011 the legislature has traded hands. Republicans held the legislature for two years (2010-2012), lost it, regained the state House in 2014 and gained additional seats in the state House and regained the state Senate by a single seat last November.
Democrats have been beset by a number of issues in many states, not just in Minnesota. The party suffers from having many of its voters clustered in urban, dense locales and in limited geographies. This leads to thousands of wasted votes while the Republican vote is better distributed.
But, according to calculations by the Daily Kos, the median district in Minnesota is actually pretty close to the median district in the United States. The median district in the US is 3.4 percent more Republican than the nation (according to the 2016 election). The median district in Minnesota has about a 3 percent GOP edge. Pretty similar eh? Again, the GOP did not even draw the lines in Minnesota and this is including the fact the Daily Kos’s calculations do not factor in redistricting in big, blue states like California because the map was drawn by an “independent commission.”
Democrats will of course point to gerrymanders in states like Wisconsin to prove their point. States such as Wisconsin do have effective gerrymanders. But shifting voter preference has also played a significant factor.
Sticking with Minnesota as the star of the article, Trump won five of the state’s legislative districts (despite three of them being held by rural, conservative to moderate Democrats). A mere four years ago Romney only won three of these districts (and no, the state did not go through a mid-decade redistricting).
The contrast between the legislative district results between 2012 and 2016 are even more striking. Donald Trump carried 39 of the state’s 67 senate districts and 72 of the state’s 134 house districts. In 2012, Romney only carried 66 house districts. It is the state Senate where the bottom has fallen out for the party. Romney only carried 29 senate seats but this go-round Trump carried a whopping 39. It bears repeating, under a nonpartisan map. It is very likely this scenario is similarly repeated in nonpartisan redistricting states such as Iowa because of the shifting nature of the parties coalitions.
To be fair, down-ballot Democrats found success even as Trump was carrying their districts. Seven Democrats represent Trump supporting Senate districts while only two Republicans sit in Clinton supporting districts. In the House, seven Democrats sit in Trump districts and 12 Republicans in Clinton districts (quite a bit of crossover). But, this does make it harder for candidates to outrun the top of the ticket for obvious reasons.
This is not to say that gerrymandering has not contributed to the GOP success. But arguing it is the primary reason is tenuous at best and most likely finds its most receptive audience in the ears of partisans desperate to explain the fate of their party.