Minnesota Puts To Rest The Gerrymandering Is Destiny Theory

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.

 

Trump Had The Better Electoral Strategy

Donald Trump’s campaign strategy was ridiculed from here to Timbuktu by political nerds, GOP and Democratic strategists and the media.  Trump staked his claim to victory on riding a wave of populist sentiment to victory across the Midwest.

By any standard definition, Wisconsin would not be thought of as a tipping point state (see definition here) but it was.  However, so confident was the Clinton campaign that Trump was not competitive in the state that they visited the state, count it with me now, zero times.  She did not set foot in the state after losing to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary in April.

To be fair, Wisconsin and other Midwestern Blue Wall states had demographics that did not favor the party.  They are chalk full of blue-collar whites, Trump’s bread and butter, polls showed Clinton ahead, and Sunbelt states were looking due to demographics and polling to be in reach.

Of course, this did not turn out.  Clinton lost every Blue Wall state except Minnesota.  Obviously, you could say that Clinton should have visited Wisconsin.  She should have gone to Michigan more than once and she should have done more to appeal to rural Pennsylvania.  But, that said, this probably did not cost her by itself the election.

No, what cost Clinton the election was Trump’s gamble on stealing Democratic electoral votes.  Trump gambled due to demographics, the industries of these states and their reddening shift since 2014 would allow him to eke out victories over a weak Clinton.  Meanwhile, Clinton staked her campaign’s victory on winning states like North Carolina and Georgia.  Who had the better strategy is in the winner of the tipping state.

Typifying the states the candidates considered most important can probably be gleaned by simply looking at where they spent their time.  By this measure, both Trump and Clinton considered Florida to be the most important state, followed by North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio for Clinton.  Trump considered Pennsylvania the second most important state followed by North Carolina and Ohio.  But after that the visits look completely different with Trump spending time in Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin while Clinton spent time in Iowa, Nevada and Georgia.

If one digs deeply they can find some of these visiting differences are found on the margins.  Rather, it seems Clinton made two significant tactical mistakes (at least according to fivethirtyeight and ones I agree with).

Clinton focused only on close states: According to RCP averages the closest states were Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina.  Obviously the polls were off in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania but this was not reflected until the final results.

Where Clinton made her mistake was focusing only on these “must-win states.”  If Clinton won these states she would hit around 300 electorate votes.  That is nothing to sneeze at but if you lose Iowa and Florida you lose 35 electoral votes and the race is a toss-up.  Clinton never tried to cushion her margin by focusing on keeping already blue states in her column.  If the campaign had paid attention they would have notice the shifting winds late in the campaign and seen Trump gaining strength among the blue-collar workers who supported Obama a mere four years earlier.

Fivethirtyeight notes that Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania up to the beginning of November narrowly mimicked the national polling averages (as in they were most likely to be the tipping state).  Obviously, they did not follow the trendline in the polls after the beginning of November but they did in the final results.  So, if the race narrowed, as it did before Election Day it would follow that these states would also be more competitive (regardless of what the polls said).

Even if you give Clinton the benefit of the argument and argue a good offense is a good defense Clinton’s campaign blundered.  Clinton only made a token effort to steal GOP states like Georgia and Arizona whereas Trump ran all over the place at the end of the campaign.  He even went to Minnesota.  Whereas Florida and North Carolina were not necessarily must win states for Clinton they were for Trump.  Clinton, instead of focusing on Ohio and Iowa, states that were not near the national polling average, should have parked herself in these states and focused on not letting Trump gain even a smidgen of momentum.

Clinton’s overconfidence showed in the narrow range of states she campaigned in: Clinton played to a much narrower base of states to win than Trump.  Where Clinton spent no time in Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado or Minnesota, Trump spent time in all of them.  He actually won none of these states but the point is that he was trying to expand the map.

The critical difference here between Clinton and Trump is that Trump’s visits reflected the overall uncertainty of the race while the Clinton camp assumed the race was all but over.  Indeed, the massive polling shifts in the race we saw time and time again should have been an indication of the volatility in the electorate.

The fact there were indications of volatility in the race could have led to any number of things happening; suburbanites could have swung to Trump, turnout in urban areas could have surged, etc.  The point is that the polls, the media and all the analysis in the world can be wrong, and because these things lead to unpredictably you want to make your path to victory as wide as possible.

Supposedly, the Clinton campaign had the most data savvy team ever assembled.  So why did the Clinton camp make this mistake?  Because they bought their own hype.  Internal models were incredibly overconfident and alternate models built on lower urban turnout, lower college educated turnout, never occurred.

This problem can be compounded with internal polls.  Campaigns only spit out good internal polls.  In states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Indiana this is why few GOP candidates put out internal numbers but Democrats spit them out up and down the ballot.

Of course, where to spend money and a candidate’s time is never made in a vaccuum.  Internal politics and external politics have an impact.  In Clinton’s case this was certainly true.  Clinton’s campaign was so intertwined with the DNC that millions were spent to run up the vote in big cities in safe red Kansas City) and blue states (Chicago).  Clinton’s campaign was religiously devoted to control.  As a result, the campaign did not provide local, on the ground volunteers.  Finally, the campaign did not run a GoTV campaign until the final days of the campaign assuming their turnout would not need to be substantially goosed.

If you are confused by this you would be forgiven.  If you thought the Clinton campaign had a robust, well oiled volunteer machine you would be forgiven.  It was entirely driven by the media and perception.

Even worse, coverage of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Electoral College was missing any context.  For example, on Nov. 3 the New York Times went after Trump for campaigning in too wide a range of states (including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania).  This too wide range of states is exactly the reason Trump won.  With the race tightening Trump found the soft spots in Clinton’s weaknesses in these states.  The rest is history.

Speaking of context, on the ground analysis was often missing or half-assed (pardon my french).  For example, if Clinton spent money in Indiana or Arizona to boost downballot Democratic candidates it was a sign of strength.  But, if Trump showed up in New Mexico or Minnesota it showed just how desperate he was.  Indeed, this was just a continuation of the press fueling the narrative Trump did not have a coherent campaign strategy.

Speaking of the media, it was clear just how much it drove the election.  Whenever Trump was in the news he sank in the polls.  Whenever Clinton was in the news she sunk.  To a degree this might explain why Clinton never fully abandoned states like Ohio and Iowa (where she consistently polled behind) which would have led to media freakout.  It also helps explain why the campaign made questionable tactical decisions to spend money in Indiana and Arizona.  It generated positive headlines.

Credit needs to go where credit is due though.  Trump’s data analytics team, despite getting little credit, should get some.  They saw where Trump was weak and kept him away from those states (he did not show up in CA or NY as he said he would earlier in the campaign).  In turn, they honestly assessed where he could win, how and directed his attention to those places.  The media would never give that much credit to this successful strategy and has not.

Indeed, short of a single interview, Trump’s analytics team at Cambridge Analytics has largely been obscured until recently.  Even the models they built saw Trump winning very, very rarely.  But, the proof is in the final results.  And so is the vindication of a campaign strategy derided for so much of the campaign.

 

 

 

 

Democrats Looking To Take Back House Have a Tough Road To Hoe

Recently the DCCC released its list of targets for 2018 (I have some initial thoughts here).  Some of the targets on the list raised eyebrows such as eight districts that voted for Trump by an eye popping 20 points or more.  But, while the list also featured some perennial targets (VA-10, CO-6, FL-26) it also had some interesting newcomers.

None seem more interesting than TX-32 and TX-7.  Pete Session’s 32nd district in Texas, anchored in the Dallas suburbs, swung 17 percent to Clinton.  But, while this was happening, Pete Sessions won reelection 71 percent to 19 percent (against a 3rd party libertarian candidate).

Meanwhile, the 7th district, based in the Houston exurbs, also swung wildly to Clinton.  Republican John Culberson won reelection but by a mere 13 points (compared to Sessions).  Romney won the district by over 20 points four years earlier.

Democrats have made it a point to build infrastructure and compete in districts they ignored last year.  The party has already hired 20 full-time staffers in GOP districts across the nation including the two districts above.  Democrats even went so far as to hold a training for elected officials on how to talk to rural voters.

But, if one wants to look at how Democrats fared in the past in these districts consider 2014 and 2012 in both districts.  Sessions won reelection in 2012 by 19 percent and in 2014 by 27 percent.  Culberson won in 2012 by 24 percent and in 2014 by 28 percent.

There will probably be a lot of talk in the coming months about upscale GOP districts being on the table due to Trump and moderate, highly educated Republicans abandoning him.  But, remember, the same was said of more moderate, swing districts last year.  In many cases a large majority of these districts stayed Republican.

Democrats in traditionally moderate, highly educated swing districts at least have infrastructure and a plan to compete in these districts.  Many of those districts sit in demographically fast changing places like California, Virginia, Florida and Colorado.

But suburban, Texas seats are another matter.  Seats such as these, and other Southern suburban or rural Republican seats are in places where Democrats have not competed in a decade or more.  The party lacks infrastructure, messaging and even a local on the ground presence.

This leaves Democrats scrambling to try and make these seats competitive.  Yet, in a horrible year for Republicans last November, down-ballot Republicans easily resisted the Trump drag.  Likewise, many conventional Republicans in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina outran Trump.  One could even argue in many strongly Republican seats voters behaved the way they did knowing Trump would still win their state.

Democrats are already trying to steal a suburban, Southern district in Georgia (Tom Price’s soon to be old seat) that swung from a 20 point Romney victory to a one point edge for Trump.  Price still won reelection by over 20 points last fall.

Democrats lack a compelling message and the aforementioned campaign infrastructure.  Suburban Republicans might not like Trump but he is not on the ballot and Democrats making that case will need a lot of help from the Donald himself.  Despite his early blunders, Trump does not seem to be obliging them.

 

 

 

The Consequences Of White Identity Politics

After Nov. 8, Nate Cohn of the New York Times tweeted that for the first time whites formed an identity politick and they represented 40℅ of the electorate.  The result was a damning indictment of democratic policies over the last 8 years.

Of course, not all whites are the same. College educated white women either almost or did back Hillary. College educated white men were far less likely to back trump compared to Romney.  But, among downscale and non college educated whites the story was different.

Obama managed to hold his own with white voters lacking a degree, particularly in the north and Midwest. This preference among no college educated whites separated them from their more conservative southern neighbors.  This splitting of the white vote in 2012 made Romney’s 20 point victory among all whites meaningless.

This go-round, Trump made non college educated whites behave in a way they never had before in national elections. For the first time, this block voted like Hispanics or Asians for a Republican candidate.

This allowed trump to ditch the Romney/McCain coalition of 08 and build a narrower but deeper coalition anchored by non college educated whites.

Why It Mattered

Just as all whites aren’t the same neither are states.  Clinton’s wins in diverse, educated states netted her a popular vote win but little else.  Indeed, Trump ran strongest in the white communities that supported Obama.

Trump, by contrast, in cleaning up so strongly in downscale whites communities overpowered democratic margins in the cities and suburbs in many Obama supporting Midwestern states.

So powerful was Trump’s win among non college educated whites he almost overcame a 40 point deficit with minorities in Nevada and won Florida despite a 500,000 vote hole in Southern Florida.

What This Means Going Forward

The 2018 Senate map is brutal for the party. It will be defending 10 seats in state’s Trump won (many predominately rural and blue-collar). The party has good incumbents in every state but even that may not be enough.

But take West Virginia for example.  Prior to George Bush’s first win in the state in 2000, the state had a Democratic governor, all blue federal delegation and a deep blue legislature. Today, the legislature is deeply red and short of the governor and Joe Manchin the machinery of power is held by Republicans. Oh, and the state voted by 40 percent for Trump.

This shift is not unique to West Virginia alone. From rural Maine to Northern Florida the exodus of non college educated whites to the GOP has grown. Last year, it became a flood.

Beyond the Senate, this has huge ramifications for every other elected office in 2018 and beyond. November showed if it is a battle of attrition between urban, liberal votes and ruby red rural areas their is no guarantee of victory for Democrats.

Indeed, it seemed last year Democrats finally maxed out their vote in urban Philly, Detroit and elsewhere. While they made gains in the suburbs they were either in deeply red states or outvoted by rural areas.  In short, massive Democratic margins in urban cities finally did stopped saving the party.

Where Democrats Went Wrong

Over at RealClearPolitics, chief elections analyst David Byler proposed an interesting hypothetical, would John Edwards coalition have been better than Obama’s?  His point is not to say one is/would be better but underscore the current Democratic coalition requires the party to alienate itself from rural, white voters.  These are not consistently Republican voters (just ask rural voters in Pepin County, Wisconsin) but the voters that have historically split their votes.  Until recently.

Back in 2002, “The Emerging Democratic Majority” was coined by Democratic strategists Ruy Texiera and John Judis.  Judis has backed away from the theory more recently than Texiera due to the identity politics conundrum it has created for the party.  But, the theory argues that Democrats could create a permanent majority if they managed to appeal to white-collar, upscale men and women, held around 70-75 percent of the minority vote and at least received 40 percent of the blue-collar, white vote (the book posited 50 percent).

Obviously Democrats have never paid attention to the chart below showing the GOP margins among the blue-collar white vote (borrowed from Byler) increasing since 1998.  If they had the party might have done more to re-calibrate after 2004 or, more recently, 2010 and 2014.  Because, Democrats have come nowhere close to hitting Judis and Texiera’s blue-collar support benchmark since the theory was penned.

Instead, what Democrats have done is create a coalition heavily dependent on college educated women, minorities and affluent, coastal elites.  Byler posits the EDM theory would have looked like a cleaned up John Edward’s, explains why and then points out he is not sure this would have won Democrats the election last year but helped them come close.  I argue it would (but that is an article for another day).

Edward’s was a candidate who could appeal to almost anybody.  He was an economic progressive in the mold of older, Southern Democratic populists and focused on economic inequality.  He was pro-LBGT rights and abortion but he also was an adamant supporter of the death penalty and supportive of gun rights.  In his bid in 1998, Edward’s ran much better than any statewide, federal Democratic candidate since.  Whereas Clinton relied on urban cores and a few college counties in the state, Edward’s won by winning a fairly diverse set of voters.

A fairly large number of Democrats in 2006 and 2008 won election by running Edward’s like campaigns that managed to coalesce a diverse socially liberal, fiscally centrist, urban and rural coalition.  But, with the nomination of Obama in 2008 (as opposed to Clinton or Edwards) the party decided to take a different course.

Democrats went all in on winning the minority and urban vote.  They embraced cosmopolitanism and its values including shoving gay marriage, abortion, and LBGT rights down Middle America’s throats.  Even after 2010, no effort was made to move to the middle on rural/urban issues or even social issues.  Democrats managed to maintain their urban coalition at the increasing cost of their rural support.  If not for Obama’s populist appeal in 2012 he might well have lost to Romney.

The 2016 election was the fulfillment of the choice Democrats made to craft a supposedly unassailable coalition of minorities, urban and college educated voters.   But, the consequences of that decision are now blindly obvious.  Democrats have a massive number of safe Congressional seats due to geographical variables and self-sorting.  The party is ensured of winning at least 15 states in the Electoral College (and about 200 votes) and is getting increasingly strong in Sunbelt, red states.  But, in the meantime, their hold on increasingly rural and red Midwestern states has finally slipped.

The Result Is Trump and His Blue-Collar Coalition

Alienated from the Democratic Party, the ultimate irony of 2016 is that blue-collar, white voters backed a rich, white guy who bragged of having gold plated toilet seats in his New York Penthouse.  In Trump, these alienated voters saw a champion.

In massive numbers in dozens of counties across the Midwest, Pennsylvania and rural Maine, Trump dominated by unheard of margins.  Exit polls show he won blue-collar whites by 40 points nationally.  Critically, in blue-wall states, Trump was the first Republican to see support in rural areas and the suburbs finally outweigh Democratic support in urban cores.

Due to the coalition Democrats have assembled they now face an existential crisis.  Do they oppose Trump, these blue-collar voters champions, in an effort to win over some of these critical voters or do they en-masse oppose The Donald to keep their progressive and minority base?  As I recently pointed out, there are many different opinions in the party on this front.

As more data comes out from the election we should know more about how blue-collar voters behaved in critical counties and states.  But, if exit polls are to be believed, as well as county and precinct level results, Trump built a coalition based on Democratic alienation decades in the making.

As for Judis and Texiera, their theory of the EDM has fallen flat.  Judis argues it has turned the Democratic Party into a minority based, identity politics party and Texiera has said little about it since 2003.  The white voters the theory relied on to stay in the Democratic camp have only been with the party in a few elections (2006, 2008 and 2012) since the new millennium.

Republicans have their issues but Democratic problems run much, much deeper.  They encompass virtually every aspect of American politics and thus cannot be solved overnight.  If nothing else, maybe this will make Democrats re-calibrate.

Remember the Early Vote Totals

Historically, data on early voting has not been very insightful in predicting final outcomes.  This is why the moniker, “Democrats win the early vote while Republicans win Election Day” is a common and true refrain.  Yet, just as with many other variables in 2016, it was used as a justification to fit a narrative that Donald Trump would lose.

Many smart people have fallen into the early vote trap.  Republicans argued positives in 2012 meant Romney was in a stronger position than state polls showed.  Democrats did the same in 2014.  Trump’s camp and Republicans did not argue the early vote numbers for 2016 but the media made it seem as if the election was all but over because of it (that is until actual returns started coming in).

Not only this, but interpretations of early voting can differ by state.  For example, the Washington Post reported Hispanics early voting totals in Nevada were 99 percent higher than 2012.  Yet, Fox News argued it remained a close race.  In states that do not register voters by partisanship, early voting numbers are a patchwork of guesses at best and usually come down to urban vs. rural and red vs. blue.

This is not to say that early voting totals do not have their uses.  They do.  They can give us indicators of how a party is fairing with its base and the enthusiasm of the party faithful for their nominee.  But it does not provide enough statistical data to call an election before we have it.

Yet, that is exactly what we saw last year.  Initially, early voting numbers cited in Mid October correlated with Trump’s sagging numbers.  But once October passed and November came about with a tightening in the polls, early voting data was used in opposition to the polls.  Indeed, sites such as FiveThirtyEight and Realclearpolitics were hammered for not incorporating early voting data in their tallies.

So what happened?  Well, if you want to take the two highest profile cases of where early voting was off you can look at North Carolina and Florida.  In North Carolina, Clinton won the early vote by 2.5 percent.  The early vote comprised about 47 percent of the electorate.  But, Trump won the election day vote by 16 percent and it was 53 percent of the electorate.  Thus, Trump easily flipped the early vote totals.

What about Florida?  Well, despite Democrats recording record early turnout, Donald Trump won the state.  He lost the early vote by only 1.5 percent (compared to Romney’s 3 percent) and these votes comprised over half of the final tally.  Where about 6.4 million voters voted early an additional 3.5 million opted to wait until election day.  Among these voters, Trump crushed Clinton by double-digits.

In fact, the GOP’s election day surge was nothing new.  In North Carolina, Clinton was running behind Obama’s margins just as in Florida.  There is also evidence the Clinton campaign knew this was an issue and made last-ditch efforts to increase its lead (to no impact).  Predictably, few networks noted this trend and simply focused on the top-line numbers (forgetting the mantra above).

It should be stated early voting is still fairly knew.  Not every state has it and access varies.  New laws and regulations can impact turnout in ways we cannot measure.  For example, despite GOP voter ID laws that Democrats decry minority turnout increased in North Carolina and Florida (especially Georgia).

Additionally, early voting numbers are generally reported at once from different states and given little context.  For example, early voting numbers in Florida are reported the same way as numbers from Mississippi, despite the fact one state requires registration by party and the other does not.  This lack of context makes the numbers meaning even fuzzier.

It is also true that the networks tend to focus on one pattern over others.  For example, this cycle, many networks noted the massive surge in Latino turnout in early voting in Florida.  Less noticed was the decrease in turnout in South Florida and, later on in the night, the Midwest.  The Hispanic surge fit with the narrative the media had pushed since the beginning of the campaign about how Trump was damaged with Hispanics over immigration.

It should also be mentioned that early voting is not a good measure to use to question polls.  Many polls account for the early vote and weight accordingly.  Additionally, more and more pollsters are breaking this down in their cross-tabs for public information.

This ultimately brings up concerns over the validity of data.  There was tons of data this cycle open to interpretation.  The problem was the interpretation was one-sided.  Almost every time, polling data was used to argue Clinton was benefiting despite the fact she was lagging behind Obama among key constituencies.  Likewise, few pollsters, nor the media, talked about how beneficial it was for Trump to have such strong support in the Midwest.  Instead, it was stories about Clinton in Arizona or playing in Indiana while Trump made a desperate, last ditch appeal in Minnesota.

In this we can see the warning signs about how data can be misinterpreted.  Polling has issues and the media tends to practice group-think.  We have access to tons of data but not always the tools to make sense of it.  As such, we should be careful what conclusions we draw from data.

 

 

Do Democrats Have a Redistricting Plan?

gettyimages-464686108-640x480At long last, Democrats have a national redistricting strategy.  Or so they claim.  On Friday, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) which aims to combat GOP legislative majorities by waging court challenges and utilizing ballot initiatives to create nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative and Congressional lines. Democrats have long blamed gerrymandering for the GOP takeover of 2010 but are loathe to acknowledge the GOP won 66 seats in 2010 under old lines that FAVORED Democrats.

The NDRC is Democrats answer to the GOP’s Republican State Legislative Committee’s REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project).  Launched in 2009, REDMAP was a well funded joint project between the party and third party groups that spent millions on data infrastructure and the 2010 election results.  Since that time, the GOP has locked in its majorities in many states (though some gerrymanders have been undone by the courts and citizen initiatives).

According to the NDRC’s website “Republican gerrymandered districts after the 2010 Census have put Democrats at a massive structural disadvantage. That’s why the most important turning point for the future of the Democratic Party will take place in 2021: when states redraw their Congressional and state legislative lines.”  Additionally, “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is an organization of Democratic leaders enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic Party redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond.”  Beyond ballot initiatives and court challenges the NDRC will also focus on winning legislative contests in the years ahead.

Missing from the NDRC is any answer for how they will confront the non-gerrymandering aspects of their coalition. Democrats are good at arguing at how Republicans disenfranchise urban and minority voters but they refuse to admit these voters tend to do it to themselves.  By this I mean the majority of the Democratic votes in many states is locked into urban and dense suburban areas and is hard to find anywhere else.  While this makes gerrymandering for the GOP easier it also makes gerrymandering harder for Democrats to accomplish even if they are in control.

Take for example the state of Minnesota. After the 2016 elections the GOP controlled both chambers of the state legislature under a court drawn map favorable to Democrats.  The GOP lost their initial majority in the state legislature in 2012, regained the house in 14 and retook the state senate last year.  The GOP did not really have to do anything to facilitate this advantage.  Democratic policies like MCare (the state exchange) and the party becoming more cosmopolitan has cost the party seats just about everywhere else. Currently, Democrats do not control a single state senate district Romney won while the GOP does not control a single, urban Minneapolis seat.  The GOP gets the better end of the deal.

The Democratic argument that gerrymandering and voting laws are the reasons why the GOP has such a strong advantage in the states is partly true.  But, it is only partly true.  The polarization, both racial and geographical, in our politics means that Democratic voters pack themselves into areas where millions of votes are wasted (see an example here).  This means for Democrats to have any hope of establishing a decade long majority in many states they will have to practice their own form of gerrymandering.  And it will likely be far worse than the GOP’s.

To see an example of this dynamic take a look at Illinois legislative districts. Until last year, Democrats had veto proof majorities in the legislature to stop Bruce Rauner.  Democrats built this advantage by creating incredbly ugly House and Senate districts that mixed rural, conservative areas with dense, urban and Democratic suburbs (ironically, no liberal complains about this).  The Congressional Democratic gerrymander has already started to fall apart because the party could not fit down-state, rural areas into urban districts.  Democrats aimed to create a 13-5 majority in the Congressional delegation.  It now stands at 11-7 with a Democratic district being carried by Trump by double-digits.

Of course Democrats are silent on their partisan gerrymanders.  Maybe it is because they fall apart as we have seen in Illinois and in Minnesota.  But, even in purple Colorado they have fallen apart as well.  The state has a split legislature (even with term limits).  The current map, drawn by a Democrat appointed district judge, did everything to give Democrats a majority in the state senate.  It created huge GOP vote sinks in rural areas and unified Democratic leaning suburbs.  Urban Denver was kept intact while trending GOP Douglas County districts were merged with liberal Araphoe county precincts.  Yet, despite this, the GOP holds a slim one seat majority in the state senate because of the Democratic insistence on appealing only to cosmopolitan voters.

To be sure, the NDRC is not a policy orientated organization.  It cannot dictate to the party what legislative policies the party should pursue.  But it should recommend to the party a change of course in rhetoric.  Democrats have a systematic weakness in the states because their party appeals only to urban interests and rural and suburban voters have noted.  This helps lock Democratic votes into districts that waste votes while GOP voters are better distributed in suburban/rural areas.  Democrats can draw districts, like in Illinois, that merge urban/rural but they are incredibly ugly, non-compact and not very full-proof.

Until Democrats come up with a way to solve these issues no amount of gerrymandering will be able to help a party beholden to interests out of touch to voters in many states. This partly helps explain why Republicans since 2012 have consistently had about a +4 percent edge in the number of seats they control in the House compared to their popular vote total.  Democrats, even if they got every map they wanted, could never accomplish the same.

Pennsylvania’s Changing Political Face

trump-erie-pennsylvania-91In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 percent and followed it up with a 5 percent win in 2012.  But, Donald Trump broke the Democratic streak of carrying the state since 1992, by a narrow 45,000 vote margin (less than one percent).  More importantly, how Trump did it represents how Pennsylvania is changing politically.

I have already written how Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won the state via different electoral groups.  Toomey’s win can be credited to his strength in the suburbs.  Trump outran his shoddy performance in the suburbs by running up massive, massive margins in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Daily Kos we now can see how Pennsylvania’s voted shifted from 12-16 by region and Congressional District.

Let’s start by region.  Regionally, Central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania turned bright red.  For example, traditional Democratic counties like Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Luzerne in North-Central Pennsylvania both voted for Trump.  The only bright spot for Democrats in either region was blue Pittsburgh (Allegeny County), Penn State (Centre County) and Harrisburg (Dauphin County).

In the suburbs, the former strength of the GOP in the state, Trump finished 50,000 votes behind Romney.  Combined with Philly Trump actually had to make up a gap of 67,000 additional votes compared to Romney  How Trump did this can be seen at the Congressional District level.

Four years ago, Romney won 12 of the state’s 18 districts while Trump won 11 districts.  He traded two Romney districts for one Obama district.  Trump won the 17th CD by 10 percent while Obama took the Scranton based district by 12 percent for a massive, 22 percent swing from 12-16.  If not for the fact the Democratic Congressman, Matt Cartwright, faced weak GOP competition in the 17th, he might have lost this ancestrally blue district.

To the South, due to Trump’s weakness in the suburbs, Clinton managed to win squeakers in the 6th and 7th districts by two percent each.  However, due to the fact Clinton only garnered 11, 000 votes from the districts while Trump won 31,000 additional votes from the 17th he got the better of the deal.

Combine this with Trump’s significantly bigger margins in GOP districts in the North and West and Trump’s path to victory, narrow as it was, gets clearer.  The only district beyond Philly that did not swing widely was the Pittsburgh based 14th, which went 67-31 for Clinton compared to 68-31 for Obama four years ago.

Case in point.  Erie County.  Obama won the county with 57 percent in 2012.  Trump took the county with 48 percent.  Unlike other counties that swung to the Donald, turnout actually increased by 6,000 votes in the county.  Further, while Obama lost every other western border county he garnered 40 percent or more in five of the six.  Clinton did not top 40 percent in a single one.  Combined with Erie she did not win a single western border county.

Whether Trump’s win is unique or not remains to be seen.  But, Toomey’s victory also proved the party has multiple and evolving paths to victory in this state.  Something nobody would have said until November of last year.