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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Redistricting and the Lessons of 2006

In a 2006 article, I wrote about the role of redistricting in that year's Democratic takeover of the House:

On the House side, gerrymandering was an ostensible barrier to a Democratic takeover. The redistricting after the 2000 census did protect House incumbents, making it harder for the minority party to score gains. Nevertheless, some commentators overstated the effect of computer-crafted districts. No matter how technologically sharp a redistricting scheme may be, demographic and political changes start to blunt its impact as soon as the map comes out of the printer. Young people and new citizens enter the electorate. Old voters die. Americans of all ages move around. Economic and social upheavals lead people to switch their party preference. Such shifts were on stark display in New York State, where a bipartisan gerrymander had once seemed to guarantee the GOP a certain minimum of House seats. Between 2002 and 2006, the Republican registration advantage outside New York City shrank from 160,000 to less than 3,000 (Roberts 2006). This trend helped nudge three GOP seats into the Democratic column.

Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania had notorious Republican gerrymanders that boomeranged. The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the election: “Republican leaders may have overreached and created so many Republican leaning districts that they spread their core supporters too thinly. That left their incumbents vulnerable to the type of backlash from traditionally Republican leaning independent voters that unfolded this week” (Cummings 2006).

At National Journal, Reid Wilson reports that Republicans have apparently learned some lessons from their 2006 experience:

Republicans now appear unlikely to gain a significant number of seats during this year’s redistricting process, even though five of the eight states gaining House districts voted Republican in the 2008 presidential race.

Mindful that they could risk seats that they already hold if they’re too aggressive, Republicans say their first priority will be solidifying their 2010 House gains rather than aiming for quick pickups that could be wiped out in a strong Democratic election year. “We don’t need to overreach. We’re trying to convince members to relay to their [state] legislators that, you know, this has got to be a 10-year map,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who heads redistricting oversight for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “This isn’t just a map that you draw for 2012. It’s a map that you draw for 10 years.”