Has gerrymandering of congressional districts backfired on Republicans?
The term “gerrymandering,” if you don’t know, refers to the drawing of boundaries in a legislative district to favor one party or group over others. For example, the boundaries of a congressional district can be drawn in some cases to ensure that there are more Republicans than Democrats (or vice versa) living there.
The practice is known as gerrymandering because Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a bill in 1812 that included a remapped district that looked like a salamander (as in the political cartoon above).
When gerrymandering is done on a grand scale — statewide, for instance — it can maximize the power of one political party over the other.
The next thing you need to know is that the boundaries of legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years to account for population shifts as measured by the U.S. Census. This redistricting process usually is controlled by the party that has most of the power in a state’s legislature. Hence, if the Republicans are the majority in the legislature, they can draw district lines that are most beneficial to their party’s candidates. The same advantage holds for Democrats in states where they are in control.
All of this brings us to the congressional elections of last November. On the whole, Democratic candidates got more votes than their Republican rivals, but Republicans won most of the seats in the U.S. House — simply because they benefited from gerrymandering in the wake of the 2010 census.
Most Republicans like to pretend that their House majority reflects the wishes of the American electorate. They are loathe to admit that gerrymandering had anything to do with it. But not long ago, a Republican panel ADMITTED the truth of the matter.
And now there’s a theory — a valid one, it seems to me — that all that Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts in the wake of the 2010 census has painted the party into a corner of right-wing extremism.
The story is HERE:
No one disputes Republicans used the once-a-decade redistricting process to lock in their House majority — almost certainly through 2014 and possibly until the next round of line-drawing in 2020.
But the party could pay a steep price for that dominance.
Some top GOP strategists and candidates warn that the ruby red districts the party drew itself into are pushing House Republicans further to the right — narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future rests on the opposite happening. If you’re looking for a root cause of the recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start.
The shellacking Republicans took in 2012 has triggered months of consternation that the party is too white, too conservative and too male. But tell that to the increasing number of House Republicans who are safely ensconced with nary a worry that a Democrat might unseat them in the next election.
The bigger threat to them is a primary challenge from the right bankrolled by the Club for Growth or another deep-pocketed outside group angry they went soft on a key vote.
“It’s obviously easier for a House member to focus on their district. They’re in cycle every day of the year, always on the hot seat, and there’s always a challenger around the corner,” said Matt Schlapp, who served as political director in the George W. Bush White House.
Still, Schlapp added, “You want to be sensitive to the district, but you also need to be cognizant of how your party is going to be successful over time.”
Gerrymandering and partisanship, of course, aren’t new phenomena in the House. But the post-2010 redistricting process driven by GOP-controlled state legislatures — Republicans wielded line-drawing power in nearly five times as many districts as Democrats — produced significantly more districts that are overwhelmingly conservative.
Of the 234 House Republicans, just four now represent districts that favor Democrats, according to data compiled by The Cook Political Report. That’s down from the 22 Republicans who resided in Democratic-friendly seats following the 2010 midterms, prior to the line-drawing.
They’re also serving districts that are increasingly white. After redistricting and the 2012 election, according to The Cook Political Report, the average Republican congressional district went from 73 percent white to 75 percent white. And even as Hispanics have emerged as America’s fastest-growing demographic group, only about one-tenth of Republicans represent districts where the Latino population is 25 percent or higher.
For Democrats, the GOP conundrum offers a glimmer of hope, with liberal groups trying to tap into the weakness of the party’s brand. House Majority PAC, a prominent Democratic outside group, recently released a Web ad highlighting some of the more silly statements that have come out of the House GOP’s ranks — the vast majority of them from members who occupy overwhelmingly conservative districts.