Some thoughts about redistricting

Yesterday, the Census released information detailing how the House of Representatives is to be apportioned between the states. To no one’s surprise, Louisiana is slated to lose one of its its seven House districts, due to lower than normal population growth that has been occurring since the 1980s.

The current conventional wisdom is that the continuing shift of population from the Northeast/Midwest to the South/West means that Democratic seats will be eliminated, while the newly added seats will be Republican, by virtue of the population shifts skewing towards generally “redder” states. Is this a valid assumption, though ? We will analyze this assumption by looking at the political situation in both the “losing” states and the “gaining” states.

Reapportionment by state after the 2010 Census

The losers

Ten states are losing House members due to below average population growth.  Those states, with the exception of Louisiana, are in the Midwest and Northeast. Given the current political environment in those states, we can analyze the way we think they will draw the lines. Because Massachusetts’ House delegation is all Democratic, the loss of one House seat there will come from the Democratic column. Similarly, Republican control of both the legislature and the governorships in both Pennsylvania and Michigan pretty much guarantees that the loss of one House seat apiece from those states will likely be borne by the Democrats. In New York, the Republicans recaptured the state Senate after the fall elections, so the loss of two seats there will likely be split between the parties.

The picture begins to get more complicated in New Jersey, Iowa, and Missouri. In those states, control of the legislature and the governorship is split between the parties (and in the case of Iowa, they use an “independent redistricting commission”), so the picture is not as clear there. In Illinois and Louisiana, we believe that the Republicans will lose House seats for different reasons. In Illinois, Democrats control the legislature and the governorship, and with the four House seats Republicans gained this year, Democrats will almost certainly exact some revenge on the Republicans when they draw the new lines. In Louisiana, the political reality is that at least one of the districts must have a black majority, which protects the lone Democrat in the delegation, while squeezing the remaining six Republican held seats into five districts. That leaves us with Ohio. Though the Republicans control the governorship and the legislature, the reality is that the overwhelming 13-5 Republican tilt of the delegation (the GOP picked up 5 House seats from Ohio this year) suggests that the Republicans may not be able to eliminate two Democratic districts without weakening one or more of the Republican incumbents, so we think the new lines will be drawn in such a way that each party will lose a seat there.

In total, if you look at the seats to be lost, the carnage will likely be evenly divided between the parties. What about the states gaining House seats ?

The gainers

Eight states are gaining representatives in Congress. Texas is the big winner: they’re picking up four new House seats. On the surface, it would seem that the states gaining seats would produce a GOP windfall, particularly since six of those eight states have Republicans controlling both the legislature and the governorship. However, the picture is a bit more complicated if you look at the details. In Georgia, Arizona, and Utah, the fact that there are four Democrats in those states (one in Georgia and Utah, and two in Arizona) who barely won re-election means that it would not be too difficult to draw new Republican leaning seats in those states. A new Republican leaning district can probably be created in South Carolina, since both the legislature and the governorship are Republican controlled. However, the fact that Republicans already have an overwhelming 5-1 majority in the House delegation in a state with a 29% black population does not guarantee that another Republican district can be drawn without diluting the Republican voting strength in the existing Republican seats – one of those other Republicans (Joe Wilson, of “you lie” fame), for instance, was only re-elected with 53% of the vote in a Republican year, so he can’t afford to lose too many Republican precincts.

A similar dynamic is at play in Florida (which will gain 2 seats) and Texas (which gains 4 seats): Republican domination of the legislature and the governorship, combined with overwhelmingly Republican House delegations (23-9 GOP in Texas, and 19-6 GOP in Florida) means that there is not much more the Republicans can gain without weakening some of the seats they already hold. In Texas, two of the GOP held seats are Hispanic majority districts that narrowly voted for Barack Obama. It’s quite possible that the GOP will have to carve out 1-2 new Hispanic majority seats which the Democrats will likely win. In Florida, four Republican held seats voted for Obama. If the Republicans tried to pick up both new seats, several Republicans may be similarly be stretched too thin – we think that the Republicans may have to carve out a new Democratic seat instead. Finally, there is Nevada and Washington. Democrats control the process in Washington, and with the House delegation 5-4 Democratic, and one of the Republicans already on shaky electoral grounds (he was re-elected with 52% of the vote in a Democratic leaning seat in the Seattle suburbs), we believe that the Democrats will draw a new Democratic district while strengthening the four existing Republicans. In Nevada, the Democrats control the Legislature but not the governorship.  While the House delegation is 2-1 Republican, one of the Republicans only won his suburban Las Vegas seat with 48% of the vote in a district Obama carried 55-43%. Again, we could see a bipartisan compromise being reached which strengthens the vulnerable Republican seat while simultaneously creating a new Democratic seat.


Based on our analysis above, we therefore see redistricting producing a slight, but not overwhelming, advantage to the Republicans if you look at the states gaining/losing seats. Republicans may be able to draw more favorable lines in the “non gaining/losing” states to gain another seat here and there, but at the present time, we don’t think the electoral windfall from redistricting will be as substantial as the pundits think it will be.