“The 2022 election for the House of Representatives was so close1 that if any number of things had gone differently, Democrats might have kept their majority. And one of the biggest things that affected the battle for the House was redistricting — the decennial redrawing of congressional districts’ lines to account for the results of the 2020 census.
But was the impact of redistricting significant enough to swing the House to the GOP? As I wrote in June, the 2021-22 redistricting cycle didn’t radically change the partisanship of the national House map, so I mostly agree with those who say redistricting didn’t cost Democrats the House. But at the same time, those who say Republicans won only because they gerrymandered are also technically correct. How can both things be true? Allow me to explain.
One way to test the claim that “redistricting cost Democrats the House” is to assess whether Democrats would have held onto the chamber if redistricting had never happened. We at FiveThirtyEight have already calculated how many percentage points each district swung left or right thanks to redistricting. For example, a district that went from a partisan lean2 of R+2 to D+3 got 5 points bluer. Then I compared this swing to the current 2022 House margin in that district.3 Suppose a party lost by less than the district swung away from that party in redistricting. In that case, it’s likely that redistricting cost that party the seat.
Of course, this is a hypothetical — and imperfect — exercise. Some districts changed substantially and wouldn’t have swung uniformly like that had they not been redrawn.4 In addition, if they had not changed, different districts might have attracted different candidates and different levels of spending from national groups, each of which could have affected the result. But this method can still give us a rough idea of what might have happened in a redistricting-less world.
Using this method, we can see that Republicans flipped a net six seats because of redistricting.”
“But Democrats also caught a few bad breaks in states with ostensibly nonpartisan redistricting processes. For example, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission made the 2nd and 6th districts5 about 10 points more Republican-leaning. In Michigan, the state’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission redrew the 10th District6 to be light red. And court-appointed experts nudged the New York 17th and Virginia 2nd rightward enough that they flipped too. Meanwhile, Democrats on the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission voluntarily sacrificed the 7th District to protect vulnerable Democrats in other districts.
On the other hand, Democrats flipped a few seats thanks to redistricting. They drew some very Democrat-friendly maps in Illinois and New Mexico, enabling them to pick up the Illinois 13th and New Mexico 2nd. A court reconfigured North Carolina’s 13th District from a solidly red seat into a swing district that Democrats narrowly carried. And Republicans made the Ohio 1st District and Texas 34th District bluer, with the unfortunate (for them) side effect of handing those seats to Democrats.
But we also need to consider seats that didn’t flip but would have if redistricting had not occurred. And this is where Democrats benefited the most, gaining six seats on net — and canceling out Republicans’ gains from the flips that did occur.”
“Democrats also gained a net three seats from reapportionment, the process of subtracting congressional districts from states with sluggish population growth and giving them to states whose populations have exploded. Six of the seven districts that were eliminated by reapportionment were held by Republicans — slow-growth areas tended to be in rural and/or postindustrial areas, where Republicans usually dominate. But Republicans won only three of the seven districts that were created in reapportionment, for a net Democratic gain of three seats.”
“By my reckoning, Democrats actually gained three seats from redistricting overall. In other words, without redistricting, Republicans’ majority would be closer to 225-210.
“But wait,” I hear you saying. “There was no world in which redistricting wouldn’t have occurred in 2021-22. So isn’t it better to calculate how the 2022 election would have gone down if redistricting had gone differently, not if it hadn’t happened at all?” You have a point — but the problem is, there is no objective alternative map. The congressional map could have changed in a thousand ways depending on individual, state-level decisions.”
“[If redistricting went differently in a number of ways in favor of the Democrats,] Democrats probably would have won five more seats than they actually did.”
“five additional seats for Democrats would have been enough for them to hold onto a slim 218-217 majority. So yes, if every Republican gerrymander had been undone in court before the 2022 election, Democrats may have kept control of the House.
But that’s assuming no additional Democratic gerrymanders were thrown out in court.”
“the Florida Legislature finally caved to DeSantis’s wishes and passed one of his proposed congressional maps — the last major piece in the national redistricting puzzle. And befitting DeSantis’s national reputation (and ambitions), it is a dream map for partisan Republicans, single-handedly adding four new Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives. But while DeSantis’s uncompromising insistence on maximizing Republican power may give him a nice story to tell if he runs for president, it could also be the map’s undoing in court.”
“This map will significantly shake up Florida’s congressional delegation, as it virtually guarantees that Democrats will lose three of their House seats in Florida”
“The map has an efficiency gap of R+20, which means Republicans would be expected to win 20 percent more seats under this map than under a hypothetical, perfectly fair map. Because Florida has 28 congressional seats, that translates to a 5.7-seat Republican bias — right on Texas’s heels for the “honor” of having the biggest bias of any state.”
“it didn’t have to be this way. Republicans in the Legislature initially passed maps that were significantly less biased. The state House passed a map in March that would have created 15 seats that were R+5 or redder and had an R+13 efficiency gap (though according to the inventors of efficiency gap, that would still qualify as gerrymandered). And in January, the state Senate passed a map that was close enough to fair (an efficiency gap of only R+6) that even most Democratic senators voted for it.
But DeSantis pledged to veto them both, insisting that only one of his uber-aggressive proposals would do.”
“On Wednesday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the congressional map New York Democrats enacted back in February was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution and tossed it to the curb. The decision was a huge blow to Democrats, who until recently looked like they had gained enough seats nationally in redistricting to almost eliminate the Republican bias in the House of Representatives. But with the invalidation of New York’s map, as well as Florida’s recent passage of a congressional map that heavily favors the GOP,1 the takeaways from the 2021-22 redistricting cycle are no longer so straightforward.
That’s because much of Democrats’ national redistricting advantage rested on their gerrymander in New York.”
“There are still congressional maps that could get struck down in court, like Florida’s. And there are still states that have yet to finalize a map — like, oh yeah, New York!
In its decision, the New York Court of Appeals endorsed the idea that a neutral special master — essentially, an expert in drawing political maps — should draw New York’s next congressional map. That would presumably lead to a relatively fair map, but the details and exact partisan breakdown are, of course, still a mystery; Democrats could still gain seats from New York’s map when all is said and done (just not as many as from their gerrymander).”
“According to two common measures of map fairness, congressional maps enacted by commissions (or courts that took over from failed commissions) have been less biased than those that have emerged from legislatures. For instance, out of the six commission states with at least three congressional districts, five have a median seat whose FiveThirtyEight partisan lean2 is within 3 percentage points of the state’s as a whole. (The exception is Colorado, where the median seat is 5 points redder than the state.)
It’s even more striking when you go by the maps’ efficiency gaps, which is a measure of which party has fewer “wasted” votes (i.e., votes that don’t contribute toward a candidate winning). All but one commission state with at least three congressional districts has an efficiency gap of 5 points or fewer, whereas the maps drawn by partisan actors are very partisan. (So far, every Democratic-controlled state with at least three districts has an efficiency gap of D+13 or greater, while all but one Republican-controlled state with at least three districts has an efficiency gap of R+7 or greater.)
The exception among commission states is New Jersey, whose map has a D+16 efficiency gap, indicating a strong pro-Democratic bias. But New Jersey’s commission is not exactly a model of nonpartisanship. Twelve of its 13 members are picked directly by state legislators or political parties (six by Democrats, six by Republicans), and after they failed to agree on a 13th member last summer, the New Jersey Supreme Court chose the Democrats’ preferred candidate. The commission eventually (and predictably) voted 7-6 for a map drawn by the commission’s Democrats.”
“Texas Republicans’ new congressional map shores up some two dozen of their incumbents while capitalizing on the GOP’s newfound appeal among Latino voters by creating two new pickup opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley.
The end result of the map proposed on Monday: It will likely give Republicans control of at least 24 of the state’s 38 congressional seats next November, with a good shot at one or two more.
Yet while it blunts Democrats’ suburban momentum by shredding up the purple areas around the state’s major cities — one Democratic incumbent lambasted “lines shaped like snakes, tentacles, and dragons” — the map should give Democrats between 12 and 14 of the seats, roughly the same as their current share.”
“Yet what happened this spring in Oregon is just one example, though perhaps the most extreme one, of a larger trend vexing Democratic strategists and lawmakers focused on maximizing the party’s gains in redistricting. In key states over the past decade, Democrats have gained control of state legislatures and governorships that have long been in charge of drawing new maps — only to cede that authority, often to independent commissions tasked with drawing political boundaries free of partisan interference.
Supporters of these initiatives say it’s good governance to bar politicians from drawing districts for themselves and their party. But exasperated Democrats counter that it has left them hamstrung in the battle to hold the House, by diluting or negating their ability to gerrymander in the way Republicans plan to do in many red states. And with the House so closely divided, Democrats will need every last advantage to cling to their majority in 2022.”
“Nearly two-thirds of Virginian voters approved Question 1, which establishes a bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw state and federal legislative districts after this year’s census. Previously, the governor and the Virginia General Assembly handled the once-per-decade redistricting
The new commission will include eight legislators and eight citizens, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Each new map—one for the state’s congressional districts, one for the state Senate, and one for the state House of Delegates—requires the approval of at least 12 commissioners, including six of the legislators and six of the citizens.”
“An abysmal showing by Democrats in state legislative races on Tuesday not only denied them victories in Sun Belt and Rust Belt states that would have positioned them to advance their policy agenda — it also put the party at a disadvantage ahead of the redistricting that will determine the balance of power for the next decade.”