Analysis: Partisan gerrymandering has benefited Republicans more than Democrats – Business Insider

Donald Trump
Donald Trump reacts as he begins to speak at the Congressional
Picnic on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, June 22,
2017, in Washington

AP Photo/Alex

The 2016 presidential contest was awash with charges that the fix
was in: Republican Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that the
election was rigged against him, while Democrats have accused the
Russians of stacking the odds in Trump’s favor.

Less attention was paid to manipulation that occurred not during
the presidential race, but before it — in the drawing of lines
for hundreds of U.S. and state legislative seats. The result,
according to an Associated Press analysis: Republicans had a real

The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and
about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last
year using a new statistical method of calculating partisan
advantage. It’s designed to detect cases in which one party may
have won, widened or retained its grip on power through political

The analysis found four times as many states with
Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than
Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that
determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three
times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.

Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those
with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state
House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the
last Census in 2010.

The AP analysis also found that Republicans won as many as 22
additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected
based on the average vote share in congressional districts across
the country. That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable
majority over Democrats instead of a narrow one.

Republicans held several advantages heading into the 2016
election. They had more incumbents, which carried weight even in
a year of “outsider” candidates. Republicans also had a
geographical advantage because their voters were spread more
widely across suburban and rural America instead of being highly
concentrated, as Democrats generally are, in big cities.

Gerrymandering Texas
Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, left, holds a copy of the latest
congressional redistricting map while speaking during a news
conference on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003, in Austin,

AP Photo/Harry

Yet the data suggest that even if Democrats had turned out in
larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains
were limited by gerrymandering.

“The outcome was already cooked in, if you will, because of the
way the districts were drawn,” said John McGlennon, a longtime
professor of government and public policy at the College of
William & Mary in Virginia who ran unsuccessfully for
Congress as a Democrat in the 1980s.

A separate statistical analysis conducted for AP by the Princeton
University Gerrymandering Project found that the extreme
Republican advantages in some states were no fluke. The
Republican edge in Michigan’s state House districts had only a
1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance; in Wisconsin’s
Assembly districts, there was a mere 1-in-60,000 likelihood of it
happening randomly, the analysis found.

The AP’s findings are similar to recent ones from the Brennan
Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law,
which used three statistical tests to analyze the 2012-2016
congressional elections. Its report found a persistent Republican advantage
and “clear evidence that aggressive gerrymandering is distorting
the nation’s congressional maps,” posing a “threat to democracy.”
The Brennan Center did not analyze state legislative elections.

The AP’s analysis was based on a formula developed by University of Chicago
law professor Nick Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, a researcher
at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Their
mathematical model was cited last fall as “corroborative
evidence” by a federal appeals court panel that struck down
Wisconsin’s state Assembly districts as an intentional partisan
gerrymander in violation of Democratic voters’ rights to

A dissenting judge ridiculed the Wisconsin ruling for creating a
“phantom constitutional right” of proportional political
representation. Wisconsin’s attorney general has argued on appeal
that the ruling could “throw states across the country into

Although judges have commonly struck down districts because of
unequal populations or racial gerrymandering, the courts until
now have been reluctant to define exactly when partisan map
manipulation crosses the line and becomes unconstitutional. The
U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on the Wisconsin
case this fall. If upheld, it could dramatically change the way
legislative districts are drawn across the U.S. — just in advance
of the next round of redistricting after the 2020 Census.

But if partisan gerrymandering “goes unchecked, it’s going to be
worse — no matter who’s in charge,” said Sam Wang, director of
the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

U.S. Capitol is seen after the House approved a bill to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with a Republican healthcare plan in Washington, U.S., May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Capitol is seen after the House approved a


‘Packing’ and ‘cracking’

Throughout U.S. history, Democrats and Republicans alike have
been accused of drawing political districts in ways that favored
their own interests.

It typically occurs in one of two ways:

—“Packing” a large number of voters from the opposing party into
a few districts to concentrate their votes.

—“Cracking,” in which the majority party spreads the opposing
party’s supporters among multiple districts to dilute their

Another way of explaining it: When the party controlling the
redistricting process sets out to draw lines, it has detailed
information about the number of supporters the opposing party
has, and where they reside. It sets out to shape districts so its
opponents’ votes are wasted — spreading them out in some places
so they are unlikely to win, and compacting them in others so
they have far more votes than they need for victory. Both methods
allow the party already in power to translate its votes into a
greater share of victories — or, put another way, to be more
efficient with its votes.

The “efficiency gap” formula developed by Stephanopoulos and
McGhee creates a way to measure whether gerrymandering has helped
a political party enlarge its power.

The formula compares the statewide average share of the vote a
party receives in each district with the statewide percentage of
seats it wins, taking into account a common political
expectation: For each 1 percentage point gain in its statewide
vote share, a party normally increases its seat share by 2
percentage points. So a party that receives 55 percent of the
statewide vote could expect to win 60 percent of the legislative

Michigan provides a good example of how the formula works.

Last fall, voters statewide split their ballots essentially 50-50
between Republican and Democratic state House candidates. Yet
Republicans won 57 percent of the House seats, claiming 63 seats
to the Democrats’ 47. That amounted to an efficiency gap of 10.3
percent in favor of Michigan’s Republicans, one of the highest
advantages among all states.

That also marked the third straight Michigan House election since
redistricting with double-digit efficiency gaps favoring
Republicans. Stephanopoulos said such a trend is “virtually
unprecedented” and indicative of a durable Republican advantage.

Republicans controlled both chambers of the Michigan Legislature,
as well as the governor’s office, when the maps were redrawn in

As lawmakers prepared to vote on those maps, former Democratic
state Rep. Lisa Brown recalls being summoned into a private room
near the back of the House chamber. She says a top Republican
lawmaker showed her two potential maps. One kept her home in the
same district while the other shifted her neighborhood into a
predominantly Republican district to the east.

lisa brown

Michigan State Rep. Lisa

Brown said she was offered a deal: Vote with Republicans or get
stuck with the less-favorable map. She declined.

As a result, Brown said, “I was gerrymandered out of my

Instead of opting for a re-election campaign, she decided the
next year to run for Oakland County clerk, a position she still

The Michigan House redistricting effort was led in 2011 by
then-state Rep. Pete Lund, a Republican who now is the Michigan
director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative interest
group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David
Koch. Lund told the AP that he doesn’t remember the details of
his redistricting conversation with Brown and doesn’t recall
trying to draw anyone out of a district.

He said if Michigan’s House districts appear to have any
“distortion,” it’s because Democrats are naturally concentrated
in the state’s urban areas and because Republicans tried to
comply with the federal Voting Rights Act by ensuring racial
minorities have large enough concentrations to elect a
representative of their choice.

Lund denied gerrymandering districts to favor Republicans,
instead blaming Democrats for their own losses.

“The Democrats don’t know how to run campaigns; they’re horrible
at it. We beat them right and left,” he said.

State House Minority Leader Tim Greimel stepped down from his
leadership post after his party failed to cut into the Republican
majority in 2016.

“Is it truly impossible for Democrats to win a majority in the
statehouse with the districts drawn the way they are? I don’t
know,” he said. “But it certainly makes it far more difficult —
and that’s the purpose of gerrymandering.”

Experts agree with parts of both Lund’s explanation and
Greimel’s. The clustering of Democrats in urban areas creates
some “unintentional gerrymandering” that works against them, said
Jowei Chen, an associate political science professor at the
University of Michigan.

“But overt partisan gerrymandering is certainly a big part of the
explanation, as well,” both in Michigan and elsewhere, Chen said.

paul ryan Mitch McconnellAlex
Wong/Getty Images

GOP in control

The current Republican supremacy in many states traces to the
2010 elections, when a GOP wave two years after Democrat Barack
Obama was elected president allowed the party to grasp full
control of 25 state legislatures and 29 governorships. That was
just in time to carry out the mandatory duty of redistricting
based on the 2010 Census.

Since then, the Republican dominance has grown to 33 legislatures
and 33 governorships — doubling the totals for Democrats — as
well as both chambers of Congress and the presidency.

Acknowledging Republican dominance in many states, Democrats
recently launched an initiative led by former Attorney General
Eric Holder and aided by Obama that is intended to better
position the party for the redistricting process after the 2020

Their three-pronged approach will target key state races, support
legal challenges to current maps and pursue ballot initiatives to
change the redistricting methods in some states.

Holder says the goal is “to get to a more fair, more democratic
system” than what he calls the current “rigged political

Stephanopoulos and McGhee computed efficiency gaps for four
decades of congressional and state House races starting in 1972,
finding that the pro-Republican maps enacted after the 2010
Census resulted in “the most extreme gerrymanders in modern

The AP used their method to calculate the efficiency gaps for all
states that held partisan House or Assembly elections for all of
their districts in 2016. North Dakota was excluded because it
elected only half its House members, and Nebraska was left out
because its legislative elections are officially nonpartisan.

In addition to Michigan, the analysis found a significant
Republican tilt in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Florida, all of
which had a Republican-controlled redistricting process after the
2010 Census.

The presidential swing states of Ohio and North Carolina were
among others that had 2016 state House efficiency gaps favoring
Republicans, the third straight such result since Republicans led
the last round of redistricting in those states.

Democrats had high efficiency gap scores in Colorado and Nevada,
two states where they won state House majorities in 2016 even
though Republican candidates received more total statewide votes.
Colorado’s map was drawn by a Democratic-dominated commission
that Republicans criticized as “politically vindictive.” Nevada’s
districts were decided by a court, but Republicans complained at
the time that they appeared more favorable to Democrats.

Despite criticism of the process from minority parties, control
of redistricting doesn’t always guarantee success. Democrats led
the redistricting efforts in Arkansas and West Virginia in 2011,
and some Republicans grumbled at the time about partisan
line-drawing. Yet Republicans subsequently swept to victory in
both states, just as they had elsewhere in the South and through
much of Appalachia.

The AP also calculated efficiency gap scores for the U.S. House
elections, although experts caution that those measurements are
less statistically meaningful in states with few districts.

Among the more than two dozen states with at least six
congressional districts, the AP’s analysis showed a significant
Republican advantage in such places as North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Michigan and Virginia, all states
where Republicans were in charge of redrawing the boundaries
after the 2010 Census.

The largest Democratic congressional advantage was in Maryland,
where redistricting was controlled by a Democratic governor and
legislature. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley recently acknowledged
during testimony in a gerrymandering lawsuit that his intent was to “create a
district where people would be more likely to elect a Democrat
than a Republican.”

donald trump mike pence paul ryanGetty

Artful line drawing

In Pennsylvania, Republicans won 13 of the 18 congressional seats
last year, three more than would be expected based on the party’s
vote share, according to the AP analysis.

“There’s one answer for that, one word: gerrymander,” said Terry
Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs
at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“In 2011, the gerrymander was the most artful that I’ve seen.”

Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation already had a 12-7
Republican advantage over Democrats heading into the last round
of redistricting, when the state lost a congressional seat
because of lagging population growth. Top Republicans who drew
the new boundaries sought to diminish Democrats’ overall
electoral chances by shifting the borders of numerous districts.

For example, a Republican-held district near Philadelphia that
had been trending toward Democrats was stretched westward to take
in more conservative voters. And Democratic-leaning voters in
Scranton and Wilkes-Barre were shifted out of a Republican-held
seat into a Democratic-led district to help protect the GOP

Both changes were cited in a lawsuit filed this month by Democratic
voters alleging Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are “the
product of naked partisan gerrymandering” and should be struck

In Texas, Republicans gained nearly four excess congressional
seats in 2016 compared to the projections from a typical
votes-to-seats ratio, according to the AP’s analysis. The
efficiency gap scores show Republicans picked up at least two
excess seats each in Michigan, North Carolina and New York,
although the latter might stem from high concentrations of
Democrats in New York City rather than partisan gerrymandering.
The analysis showed at least one excess Republican seat in Ohio,
Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

That helped pad a Republican congressional majority that stood at
241-194 over Democrats after the 2016 elections. That represents
a 10 percentage point margin in congressional seats, even though
Republican candidates last fall received just 1 percentage point
more total votes nationwide.

“There are significantly more pro-Republican maps at the moment
than there are pro-Democratic maps,” Stephanopoulos said. “To me,
the most important driver of that fact is that Republicans
controlled redistricting in a whole lot more states than
Democrats” after the last census.

The national Republican State Leadership Committee, the force
behind the party’s surge in state legislative elections,
attributes its victories to candidates who better represent the
values and issues important to their communities.

For Democrats to complain of gerrymandering is “pure nonsense,”
said Matt Walter, the Republican committee’s president.

“That’s just a baseless supposition to blame that all on
line-drawing,” he said.


Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*