Gerrymandering Reportedly Saved the GOP From an Even Bigger Ass-Kicking in 2018

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty)

The 2018 midterm election were a historic blowout for congressional Democrats, netting them at least 40 seats to flip the House of Representatives from Republican control, and setting the stage for at least two years of serious opposition to President Donald Trump’s political agenda. But according to a new analysis from the Associated Press, Democrats would have won even more seats at the federal and local level in November had it not been for the GOP’s best gerrymandering efforts.

According to the AP:

Republicans won about 16 more U.S. House seats than would have been expected based on their average share of the vote in congressional districts across the country. In state House elections, Republicans’ structural advantage might have helped them hold on to as many as seven chambers that otherwise could have flipped to Democrats, according to the analysis.

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In other words, the way multiple congressional and state districts have been drawn likely meant that Republicans were able to claw their way to victory in places where, under more equitable circumstances, they should have been voted out.

Choosing where, and how, to draw voting district lines has long been one of the GOP’s most effective methods of gaming the electoral system in their favor. In North Carolina, arguably ground zero for Republican gerrymandering efforts, multiple GOP-drawn districts were repeatedly ruled unconstitutional ahead of last November’s elections, with similar rulings admonishing Republican-created election maps in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Last year, the Supreme Court pointedly delayed a ruling on a partisan gerrymandering case against the Wisconsin legislature, while Utah recently created a bi-partisan commission to undo years of GOP-lead redistricting proposals.

According to the AP, Republican gerrymandering likely salvaged a number of state houses as well, with “five state legislative chambers where Republicans retained the majority in 2018 even though Democratic candidates won more votes overallIowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”

Matt Walker, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee—the GOP’s campaign arm for state legislative races across the country—pushed back on the AP’s findings, arguing that its use of the “efficiency gap” test created by Public Policy Institute of California political scientist Eric McGhee and University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos was inherently flawed. The test was created specifically as part of the case against Wisconsin GOP gerrymandering efforts that was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017.

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“This is not a real formula. This is not a real theory,” Walker said. “This is ivory-tower nonsense.”

Given the ferocity with which Republicans have defended their party-drawn districts, it’s clear that the continued effort to shine a light on right-tilting gerrymandering is making many within the GOP very, very nervous.

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Rafi Schwartz

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.