January 18, 2017


Party Down: The Democrats' curious decline and uncertain future (Alex Seitz-Wald, 1/18/17, NBC News)

Jowie Chen, a professor at the University of Michigan, has run hundreds of computer simulations to compare real election results to hypothetical ones in non-gerrymandered districts. The results show Democrats' unintentional self-gerrymandering is arguably a bigger handicap than the GOP's intentional gerrymandering.

In 2014, for instance, Republicans won 247 House seats with the help of Republican-leaning districts gerrymandered after the 2010 census. According to Chen's simulations, however, the GOP still would have won 245 seat if the election were run again in non-gerrymandered districts.

Gerrymandering can have a big impact on individual states, like in politically divided North Carolina, where snaking districts help Republicans control 10 of the state's 13 congressional seats. But Democrats also play this game in states they control, offsetting Republican gerrymandering, according to Chen.

Of course Democrats don't want non-gerrymandered districts -- they want district maps doctored for their advantage. So the potential upside from retaking state legislatures is significant. But in the aggregate, their gerrymanders will never be quite as effective as their more rural opponents.

Cities aren't the only problem. Far-flung Democratic clusters along old industrial canals or small towns where universities happen to have been built a century ago also lead to wasted votes.

In conservative North Florida, for example, Democrats have pockets of support in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, and in the state capital, Tallahassee. Clinton won Alachua and Leon Counties, home to both of those cities, respectively, by a 25-point margin. But geographically isolated Democratic redoubts like these often get subsumed by their conservative surroundings in congressional or state Senate elections with broad geographic districts.

Fluky as it may be, the inefficient distribution of Democratic voters makes it harder for Democrats to win no matter how congressional districts, state legislative districts, and even state boundaries are drawn. The mere existence of political boundaries at all is the problem.

"Because of the urbanization of the Democratic Party, any sort of geographic line-drawing is inherently going to value the rural party, and that's the Republicans," said Chen.

Posted by at January 18, 2017 8:04 AM