Do special elections tell us much?

We are only a month into President Trump’s first term and already we have seen a series of special elections with divergent results.  First, a series of special elections in Virginia went as expected with two GOP leaning districts and solidly blue district going their usual way.  But, then a special election in a blue leaning Iowa Senate district went a shade of dark blue.  Most recently, a special election in a Minnesota house district that backed Trump by 29 points favored the GOP nominee by a mere 6 points.

All this begs the question of whether this is a sign of the Trump effect and its consequences for down-ballot Republicans?  Traditionally, it is often Democrats that suffer in low-key special elections, especially in legislative contests.  But, with special elections coming up to determine control of the Delaware, Connecticut and Washington State senates, the trend seems to lean in Democrats favor.  More so, it suggests Democrats are primed to do well in 2018.  Or are they?  Are special elections really that predictive?

A brief look at recent history gives a mixed message.  In 2009, Republicans had an excellent shot at capturing two special elections, John Murtha’s old district and and an-upstate NY district.  In both cases, contrary to opinion polls and the general mood of the country, Democrats won these open seat races.  But, in both cases, Republicans nominated flawed candidates and Democrats ran excellent candidates that fit their districts.  Months later Republicans would gain 63 seats in the House (but neither of these seats).

In 2011, Republicans giddy off their 2010 success believed they could easily hold a conservative, upstate NY seat.  But, the GOP nominated a weak candidate and Democrats smartly nominated a local candidate who ran against the GOP plans to reform entitlements.  Additionally, a wealthy, third-party candidate ran under the Tea Party banner and arguably split the right leaning vote.  The district, older and whiter than most was especially susceptible to such arguments.  Republicans blew the election.  Yet, a mere five months later Republicans would capture a Brooklyn based district in part on fears Obama was turning against Jews.

These elections told us little about the environment heading into 2012.  Indeed, both districts would throw out their special election winners during the Presidential election in November.

Legislative special elections, because they are so common, often give us conflicting stories heading into an election.  For example, in 2013, a WA State Senate special election in a blue leaning district that flipped Republican shifted 6 points from Obama to the Republican candidate.  This seemed to indicate Democrats were in trouble heading into 2014.  Except, Democrats soon after won another special election in the state a month later.

Even more recently, in 2015 Republicans were giddy about taking the Kentucky House for the first time in 100 years.  Yet, in four special elections held in a month, Democrats won three and kept the House.  A few months later Republican Matt Bevin would win the Governorship and a year later the party would almost capture a super-majority in the House.

As hinted at above, special elections often represent the prevailing views of the time and local events.  Sure, it was easy for Democrats to win races in NY by running against entitlement reform and a split opposition just as it was easy for Republicans to run against Obama in an upscale, suburban Puget Sound seat.  Oftentimes, these races can be swung by singular events at the time that fade as a national election approaches.

Legislative special elections might tell us even less than Congressional special elections.  If we took the Virginia legislative results from earlier this year at face value we would assume Republicans would do fine next year.  But, now a series of special elections tell us that might not be the case.  Except, the general election is 21 months from now and Republicans are embroiled in a crisis of rule.  Who is to say this will continue into next year?

Indeed, who is to say it even continues for a few weeks? Republicans have a chance to take the Delaware State Senate for the first time since the 1960’s in a district local Republicans run well in (not so much at the federal level).  If Republicans win this seat the narrative will completely flip.

WA State is also set to have a special election that will determine control of their state senate.  The district went 65-28 for Clinton but has a tendency to elect moderate, Republican legislators (the moderate, Republican incumbent died of lung cancer).  Imagine if Republicans managed to hold this seat?

Finally, a series of Congressional special elections are coming down the pike.  In Kansas, Mike Pompeo’s seat is open.  In South Carolina, Mick Mulvaney’s district is vacant after he became OMB Director.  Finally, the crown jewel for the left is Tom Price’s seat in Georgia.  The seat flipped from a 20+ point district for Romney to a 47-46 win for Trump.  At the same time it elected Tom Price by 20+ points.

Measuring the impact of these districts results is an imperfect art.  Certainly, comparisons to how these districts behaved last year will be the norm.  Little attention will probably be paid to the individual candidates themselves or the local/national issues percolating in each district.  But these results might not tell us much.  National events will play significantly in these races as will the strengths of the candidates themselves.  If anything, the strength of Democratic candidates in a series of special elections (leading to victories) made it seem as if the party was better off than it was heading into 2010 (in fact, Democrats had a streak of Congressional double-digit wins in special elections until 2011).

So, long story short, special elections can tell us something and nothing at once.  They can point to the general trend of politics at one time.  But they tend to be pretty lousy at predicting general election results a year and a half or even months away.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Democrats Special Election Dreaming

Much as Republicans embarrassed Democrats in 2010 by stealing the late “liberal lion” Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats are hoping for the same magic in likely HHS Secretary and current Congressman Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta based district.

Price is incredibly popular in the district.  He has never won less than 60 percent of the vote in his suburban district.  But, Democrats are hopeful the combination of an open seat and Trump’s weakness in the district (he won 47-46) compared to Romney’s commanding win (60-38) four years ago.

Democrats express optimism with the right candidate they can compete.  The district includes many of the Northern suburbs of Atlanta which includes parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.  The demographics of the district are not exactly conducive to an upset but the socio-economic variables of the district are.

It is a highly educated district with a median income well above the national average (and Georgia’s).  It’s voters tend to eschew social conservative firebrands and elect more congenial, conservative members.  It elected Newt Gingrich for two decades and current Georgia Senator Johnny Issakson.  Price might be more socially conservative than the prior representation but he is no Ted Cruz.  Democrats note Trump struggled among the educated and hope that tying the GOP nominee to Trump will translate to gaining moderate voters.

Throwing a wrench in Democratic plans is the unique nature of Georgia special elections.  Every candidate, regardless of party, runs on the same ballot in a system known as a “Jungle Primary” and if no candidate gets above 50 percent the top two vote getters advance to the general (again, regardless of party).

Democrats have three candidates running with a clear frontrunner in Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker who has gobbled up some serious cash.  The other two candidates are a former state rep and a current member of the lower chamber.  Neither has serious cash on hand.

On the GOP side a few have declared but the field is largely waiting on former Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and Senate candidate in 2014 Karen Handel.  If she jumps in due to her name ID and moderate nature she should swallow up the competition.  Democrats might as well kiss any hopes goodbye if she yes to a run.

But, even if Handel does not run, Democrats need to be careful not to split the small liberal vote in the district in such a way none of the three finishes in the top two.  In states with jungle primaries this has happened more times than either party wants to see.

With a Cook PVI of R+12 Democrats would need a significant anti-Trump backlash to form aided by an ineffective GOP Congress.  But, right now, there is little evidence this is happening.  While Trump’s approval ratings may be anemic they are holding strong among conservatives and Republican leaning voters.  The voters Democrats need to win the support of to take the seat.

Democrats really, really, want a symbolic victory and taking a conservative district that once elected Newt Gingrich, current Senator Johnny Issakson and soon to be HHS Secretary would do it.  To bad it is unlikely they will even come close.

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.

 

 

Forget The Rural/Urban Divide: This Election Was Decided In The Suburbs

It is very, very clear the rural/urban divide that is growing in America became a chasm last year.  Just read Politico’s enlightening piece here.  If you can get past the hidden references to “resentment” rural Americans have but that urban dwellers don’t harbor similar feelings it is a great read.

Despite the massive margins Trump racked up in rural areas the real battle was in the suburbs.  It is here where Trump won the election.  Unheralded by many analysts is Trump’s significant five percent margin in the rapidly diversifying and grow meccas of America.  This was a three point improvement on Romney’s two point victory and importantly was based in critical, non-coastal states.

The great demographic misnomer of America is that urban cores and cities are growing. But, census and voter data shows suburbs and exurbs are growing at a much more rapid rate.  Case in point, Trump states enjoyed a net-migration of 1.45 million compared to states Clinton win.  The common belief is that this migration automatically benefits Democrats but she barely improved on Obama’s performance in Georgia, barely nudged him in Arizona and lost Florida and North Carolina.  These states are states Democrats have been certain would flip with a weak Republican nominee at the top of the ticket.  Instead, they stayed Republican.

With rural/urban becoming increasingly polarized and fewer votes to be squeezed out of both locales, the parties will have to duke it out in the suburbs.  Not all suburbs are the same.  California and New York’s suburbs are a deep shade of blue while Wisconsin’s and increasingly Minnesota’s are a deep red.  Since Obama was first elected “suburbs” as they are defined by exit polls have become increasing right leaning.  Obama won them in 2008 only to fall to 48 percent in 2012 and Clinton scored a paltry 45 percent (even John Kerry did better in his losing bid).

Again, not all suburbs are the same.  Clinton squeezed an additional 50,000 votes out of Philly’s Collar Counties, did better in suburban Denver as well as central Florida’s heavily Dominican I-4 Corridor.  However, she unperformed in many, older Rust Belt suburbs such as Erie (NY), Lehigh (PA), Hamilton (OH) and Kenosha (WI).

A majority of suburbs supported Trump in the swing states.  Some suburbs such as Araphoe (Denver) and Loudoun (DC) that did not support Trump still swung for Congressional Republicans.

Among the suburbs that put Trump over the top was suburban Detroit.  These old, sprawling suburbs supported Obama four years earlier but this time only Wayne County (Detroit) and Oakland went to Trump.  The remaining four counties including historic Macomb County went heavily his way.

A similar state, Pennsylvania, followed the same pattern.  Clinton garnered an additional 13,000 votes from Philly and about 50,000 more votes from Philly’s Collar Counties but Trump improved in industrial, suburban areas such as Berks and Lancaster Counties in the Southeast and Butler and Westmoreland, anchored by urban Pittsburgh.  Trump even won historically blue Erie County anchored by suburban NYC by three points.  Obama carried it by 16 points in 2012.

Wisconsin, Iowa’s and Ohio’s suburban counties swung the strongest to Trump.  Trumbull and Lake in Ohio, Kenosha and Racine in Wisconsin and Dubuque in Iowa, all went for Trump by crushing margins.  Clinton had no chance winning even with massive margins in the cities.

This tells us that the political battleground of the future will be the suburbs.  The road to recovery for Democrats, thus, is to improve in the suburbs Trump did well in.  Democrats will have to expand their message beyond a social issues driven, post-national borders ideology and focus on economic issues impacting more down-scale and while locales.

This will be difficult with increased Democratic unity in urban areas.  Indeed, Clinton improved on Obama’s performance in many of the most populous counties in America.  But, racking up such huge margins in the cities is not a consistent, winning strategy and as a result a new course is needed.

By a quirk of geography and environment many urban areas have lost their abilities to swing the Electoral College.  With rural “resentment” growing due to liberal policies calling them everything from racist to fat the suburbs are the only place Democrats really have a chance to grow.  Yet, they have been losing ground there since 2008.

By contrast, the GOP coalition assembled by Donald Trump showed remarkable resiliency compared to urban, dense enclaves.  These places and their electoral power are not going away any time soon.  Consider that areas outside million plus metropolitan areas constituted 100 percent of the vote in Iowa, 61 percent in Michigan, 47 percent in Michigan and 44 percent in Ohio.  Minnesota would have probably flipped if not for 50 percent of its vote coming from the heavily Democratic Twin Cities.

The liberal talking point that Millennials and retirees will flock to urban areas is counteracted by the balance of the evidence.  Indeed, many suburbs have been growing largely at the expense of denser, more urban cores.  Between 2010-2015, suburban counties of major metropolitan areas added 825,000 net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost nearly 600,000.  The evidence is mixed on whether these migrants will return the suburbs to a centrist 50/50 state or make them more traditionally conservative.  Atlanta’s, Denver’s and Philly’s experience suggests the former while Ohio and Florida suggest the latter.

The defining split in suburbs may not be geography, but rather density.  Closer suburbs to urban cores are becoming extensions of their big brothers and sisters while further out exurbs are mimicking the voting patterns of their rural neighbors.  You can see this exhibited all across the political landscape where Trump lost dense, inner precincts but recovered by winning smaller but more numerous, exurban areas.

Fortunately for Republicans, exurban areas seem to be growing more than urban suburbs.  To lock in their power Republicans should finally try to appeal to diversifying segments of the suburban electorate via school choice and infrastructure spending.  Democrats need to craft a message that appeals beyond their urban core.  We will see if they will.

 

 

 

 

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.