Democrats have for years lamented partisan redistricting plans that have helped Republicans win far more congressional seats than expected. But this advantage has disappeared.
In the first election held with 2020 census data, Democrats fought back with their own gerrymandering that shaped districts to their advantage and essentially evened the outcome. Although Republicans won control of the House from Democrats, the tightly divided chamber more accurately reflects the ratio of Republicans to Democrats among voters nationwide than at any time in recent years, according to new analysis from the Associated Press.
“On the one hand, we have fairer and more representative results. But it looks like we have more gerrymandering,” said Doug Spencer, a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who administers the All About Redistricting website.
AP analysis found that Republicans won just one more U.S. House seat in 2022 than would have been expected based on the average share of votes they received nationally — an insignificant advantage in determining the majority of GOP seats from 222 to 213.
A similar situation unfolded in state capitals in the 2022 election. The AP found that Democrats and Republicans clinched nearly equal numbers of states with slanted House or Assembly districts. in their favor – a stark contrast to the large Republican advantage over the previous decade.
The difference is not just that Republicans have Gerrymander less, but that “more Democrats have taken up the practice,” Spencer said.
Much is at stake. Districts drawn to a party’s advantage can help it win, maintain or expand majorities, which in turn can affect the types of laws enacted on controversial issues such as abortion. , guns, taxes and transgender rights. That is evident this year, as Republican- and Democratic-led states move in opposite directions on many of these issues.
The discontent once expressed strongest by Democrats in states gerrymandered by Republicans is now also on the rise among Republicans in places such as rural Macoupin County, Illinois. A Republican has represented the former mining county in Congress for the past decade. But a Democrat won the redesigned district in 2022 after it morphed into a slender snake-like form – with a head in the twin college towns of Champaign and Urbana and a new tail in the Democratic suburb of Saint -Louis.
Republican-leaning Macoupin County looks like a bulge in the middle — the only entire county remaining in the 13th District.
“We are now tied to people — boat anchors in the north and boat anchors in the south — with whom we have very little in common, and we are not satisfied,” said county GOP chairman Tom Stoecker. by Macoupin.
Illinois’ congressional districts had the most partisan leanings nationally, helping Democrats win three more seats than expected based on their vote percentage, according to AP analysis. Among the state chambers, the greatest partisan tilt occurred in the Nevada Assembly, again favoring the Democrats.
Republicans still reaped rewards in some places. Texas Republicans won about two more seats in the US House than would have been expected based on their vote percentage. A longstanding GOP tilt also continued in the Wisconsin Assembly.
The AP analyzed the effect of the redistricting on the 2022 election using an “efficiency gap” formula intended to spot instances of potential gerrymandering. The test — designed by Eric McGhee, a researcher at the nonpartisan California Institute of Public Policy, and Nick Stephanopoulos, a professor at Harvard Law School — identifies states where a party is extraordinarily good at translating votes into wins. This can happen when politicians tasked with distributing their opponents’ voters into a few highly concentrated districts or distributing them across multiple districts to dilute their voting strength.
Previous AP analysis found that Republicans enjoyed a strong advantage in districts drawn after the 2010 census. The GOP won about 22 more U.S. House seats than expected based on its vote share in 2016 — about 16 additional seats in 2018 and about 10 excess seats in 2020. By comparison, the GOP’s one-seat tilt in the 2022 election was essentially political washout.
“By many metrics, we had the fairest congressional map and the fairest state legislative map in decades, and that’s really a good thing for democracy,” said John Bisognano, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which challenged the maps drawn by Republicans in research.
Bisognano attributes the change mainly to four states – Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. According to Republican-drawn maps of Congress, those states combined in 2016 to elect 39 Republicans and just 17 Democrats — about nine more Republicans than expected based on their vote share. But in 2022, according to maps adopted by the courts and Michigan’s new independent commission, those states combined to elect 26 Republicans and 29 Democrats. In a reversal, Democrats won about one more seat than expected based on their vote share.
In each of the two most recent midterm elections, AP analysis identified 15 states where a political party won at least one more congressional seat than might have been expected on the basis of its votes. Twelve of them favored the Republican in 2018.
But the redistricting gains were more evenly distributed last year. Democrats won at least one more congressional seat than expected thanks to their percentage of votes in eight states – California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington. Meanwhile, Republicans won at least one additional seat in seven states – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, New York, Texas and Wisconsin.
Illinois’ new districts were drawn by the Democratic-dominated state legislature and signed into law by Democratic Governor JB Pritzker, despite a promise during his 2018 campaign to veto all maps drawn by politicians. Pritzker said the maps — which added a second predominantly Latino district while maintaining three predominantly Black districts — would “ensure that all communities are fairly represented.”
Under the new districts, Democrats in Illinois widened their 13-5 advantage in Congress to a 14-3 majority, flipping one Republican seat and merging others. The state lost one seat due to declining population.
Republican Rep. Rodney Davis was removed from the 13th District he represented for a decade and placed in the heavily Republican 15th District. He lost in a GOP primary against Representative Mary Miller, which was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. The remodeled 13th District was won by Democrat Nikki Budzinski, a former aide to Pritzker and President Joe Biden.
“This district was drawn very randomly to maximize Democratic turnout,” Davis told the AP.
Many more politically neutral alternatives could have been crafted, said Sheldon H. Jacobson, director of the Institute for Computational Redistricting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“It was just an awful situation and really doesn’t represent the people of Illinois,” Jacobson said.
Fair representation was also questioned in Nevada, where the Democratic advantage of redistricting was so large that it could have swayed control of the state Assembly. Although Republican candidates received more votes overall, Democrats won a majority of 28 votes to 14 last fall, seven more Democratic seats than expected, according to AP analysis.
A lawsuit filed by affected residents and several Republican lawmakers alleged that the new districts were “an intentional extreme partisan gerrymander” who illegally diluted votes. But a judge said there was no clear standard for weighing partisan gerrymandering claims under the Nevada Constitution – echoing a 2019 US Supreme Court ruling that courts Federals also don’t have to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims.
The Reno-area Somersett golf community used to be part of a Republican-controlled Assembly District, but the new maps split it in two. A Democrat now represents part of the subdivision while the rest have been placed in a Republican-led rural district that stretches hundreds of miles to the borders of Oregon and Idaho.
“It was really bad for our community,” said Jacob Williams, president of the Somersett Owners Association, who ran unsuccessfully in a Republican primary for state Assembly. “It was pretty deflating.”