Will gerrymandering play role in which party controls Congress?

Greg Nash

House Republicans should be afraid. The latest book by Bob Woodward, “Fear,” paints a damning portrait of Donald Trump and the administration. As for the polls, the latest numbers show the Democrats leading by up to double digits on the generic ballot. The nonstop antics by the president have managed to drown out glad economic tidings, which is quite an accomplishment, although an egregiously dubious one at that. Verbal incontinence stands to carry a stiff price for the president and his party.

Yet, even as a gale force brews behind what appears to be an approaching blue wave, doubt rightly persists. The prognosticators at FiveThirtyEight still give the Republicans a roughly 20 percent chance of keeping the House. Remember, Trump won the presidency after being given a 25 percent chance of winning. In other words, with less than 10 weeks until Election Day this year, the ultimate outcome is not a done deal.

{mosads}One wildcard in how things shake out is the impact of redistricting. In recent cases from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, the Supreme Court has confronted challenges to lines drawn where politics allegedly played an outsized hand and elided the dispositive question of when partisan lines become unconstitutional.

In Pennsylvania, the highest court in the state struck down a map drawn by Republicans and instead devised congressional boundaries of its own. Efforts by Republicans to permanently gerrymander an advantage in a state that went for Trump by less than one point were junked by the court. As a result, the Pennsylvania congressional delegation is now projected to be evenly split, with the Democrats picking up four seats.

In North Carolina, there is another story of gerrymandering. There, Republicans control 10 of 13 seats in Congress, despite the fact that the parties are at near parity. For the record, Trump winded up with less than 50 percent of vote as he beat Hillary Clinton by fewer than three points there. Indeed, North Carolina went for Barack Obama in 2008.

A panel of federal judges observed last month that the “Constitution does not allow elected officials to enact laws that distort the marketplace of political ideas so as to intentionally favor certain political beliefs, parties, or candidates and disfavor others.” To be clear, it is unlikely that the district court will engage in redistricting before November.

Still, what remains to be seen is the actual impact of gerrymandering on midterms. From the looks of things, redistricting will likely hurt the Democrats this cycle, but it is unclear whether it will stand in the way of them retaking the House. If the argument sounds familiar, it most certainly is. In the aftermath of Obama winning in 2012, Democratic stalwarts argued that redistricting cost them their shot at regaining control of the House. At the time, the Democrats won 51 percent of all votes cast in congressional races, but fell 17 seats short in their quest for the House.

In Democratic eyes, redistricting was the culprit. Or as Sam Wang of Princeton University put it, welcome to the “great gerrymander” of 2012. To be sure, his word was not the last say on the matter. Eric McGhee of the University of California and John Sides of George Washington University, argued that incumbency may have played a larger role than boundaries.

Who is right? Who knows. As long as the Democrats are concentrated in the urban precincts across America, they will likely be at a disadvantage in rural states. Gerrymandering, at the end of the day, is a perk of power.

Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice. He is now the managing member of research and analytics firm Ospreylytics.

Tags Barack Obama Democrats Donald Trump Election Hillary Clinton Republicans

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video